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Summary:

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer needs to light a fire under her company, but was banning telecommuters the right call? It probably doesn’t matter.

Marissa Mayer at Davos

Marissa Mayer is not shy about making changes to make sure Yahoo gets its groove back. I am in the “not buying it” camp because I don’t think it is easy for tech companies, especially ones like Yahoo that have been eaten from inside by a systematic rot. Still, she like the Greek god Sisyphus, she is trying to push the rock up the hill.

Her moves, including buying new talent, are one way to graft new cells into the old cancerous host. And recently she put a kibosh on the company’s work-from-home policies and expects people to come to office nearest to them. The move has come under a lot of criticism. Many who have never managed folks who work remotely have been quick to criticize Mayer’s decision. Our own Mathew Ingram too isn’t a fan of her decisions.

Now, I am a big, big fan of remote work. Remember, it has been something I have been talking about since 2004 and even started a blog dedicated to this cultural shift. GigaOM itself was a remote worker powered startup. So I totally understand the benefits and shortcomings of remote work.

Still, I can understand why she is making such a move. She is trying to revitalize the company culture and it means bringing back the folks into the Yahoo offices. I don’t know if that will be enough to save the company from its actual fate, but in her attempts for cultural overhaul, it is a gamble worth taking.

Also there is an upside of all this hand wringing — people are talking about Yahoo. When was the last time did you have people even talking about Yahoo other than the constant changes in the executive suite?

  1. I agree with Om on this. I tweeted a few things about this myself early this morning. She knows what she’s doing.

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  2. There’s always comedy gold in these things, whether warranted, fair or not:

    Oh I wish I was a Marissa Mayer worker /
    That is what I’d truly like to be /
    ‘Cause if I were a Marissa Mayer worker /
    Everyone would in the office be

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  3. Om — With all due respect, I am just not sure if “any PR is a good PR” applies in this case.

    When was the last time we heard anything positive about Yahoo?

    When MySpace was failing, people kept talking how unbelievable it was that a company like MySpace could fail so far. That PR did not help MySpace one bit.

    When Vista was released, it became a case study on what not to do. That also did not really help Microsoft.

    Dev

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    1. That’s a poor analogy. Of course people are talking about how a failing company is failing. But having workers come on site is not the same as discussion of the merit behind that decision.

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  4. The problem is how it was done, not the even goal, need, purpose. It could have been managed in a way that would not have blown up into an HR and PR disaster. The media are focusing on her private office nursery for her baby. Ouch! Gloria Steinem took a big swipe at Mayer last night on PBS NewsHour. The Yahoo brand is taking a hit and prospective talent will go elsewhere.. How does that help turnaround the company? Feels like not enough thinking through before pulling the trigger.

    Geoff Moore has weighed in on the “she had to do it” side, but most of the commentary has been that no matter what good management intentions she now has a mess on her hands. Remember that scene from Patton, where he “wakes up” the Third Army from a funk? This is not WWII and Mayer is not Patton.

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  5. Om, if you think the people who matter for y! success are reading this or any article on this matter you’re mistaken

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    1. seems they can’t read blogs all day now that they actually have to work

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  6. Its not surprising she is trying to take what she learned from Google and apply it to Yahoo. The GooglePlex is where thou shalt live, eat, breathe, use the toilet, workout in the gym, get laundry service, watch movies, take naps, have a BBQ, bring your pets, children, spouse, heck why waste money renting or paying a mortgage, why waste money on fuel and exhausting Al Gore-like fossil fuel remnants into the air whilst transporting your biomass when you can thrive 24×7 within the GooglePlex. Its like the Borg, “resistance is futile” (and I’m not kidding, just look at Sergey with those new glasses, he’s well on his way to becoming a Borg). With Apple’s spaceship campus coming up in 2016, the new Nvidia starships, the Larry Ellison Oracle database canister towers, and the GooglePlex, certainly the Yahoo complex is about to take shape for resistance is futile! The irony is that these Borg-like mega corporations with their mega complexes are orthogonal to the thinking of the late great Arthur C. Clarke who predicted in the 1970s that networked computers would allow mankind to work from anywhere yet interact, collaborate and yes innovate regardless of location.

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  7. dude, gloria steinem and co. are outsiders. marissa is truly living and breathing this thing. she’s not changing for change’s sake, she’s not looking to make a quick buck then disappear (note how for once in five years no one’s looking for a new yahoo ceo). marissa has a big problem in her hands – hell, i can’t do better than om’s metaphor of a cancer = and for now she is dealing with hundreds of employees whose work ethic went to hell a decade ago. we’re talking employees who that people forgot worked there, employees who started their own startups while getting fully paid and obviously not committing fully.

    these people need to go straight or go home – er, stay home. she’s not a nazi and she’s not requiring people to do it over the weekend, but rather over 4 months. sure, some people’s lives will change radically because they only took the job because of the special deal they made with yahoo years ago. but guess what. circumstances change, and that deal was made with the old yahoo – you know, the one we all agree had cancer.

    some of those people might benefit from finally getting the guts to quit and commit to their startups or get a job elsewhere. others might kill themselves. others, however, might be happy in three years when they’re still in yahoo and it’s a thriving company again. i know om thinks yahoo is fundamentally doomed. and he has to be at least part right, because marissa thinks so too! and that’s why this is happening. it needs to get a good shake, one that might work or not. but just sitting there is sure to fail.

    takes some metaphorical balls to do this and she’s got them. i applaud them and i’m a big fan. and i’m consuming 2000% more articles from the homepage.

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  8. If you don’t know the direction you’re going, don’t start running. Seems to me like Management busy work. What if all these people start doing what people do, create sugar meetings. Everybody’s busy and the company gets fat..

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    1. it’s hardly like she’s messing with a good thing. sorry to inform you the cats are already fat and useless.

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  9. Frankly, I’m surprised by how long this story has lasted. If the most recent stories coming out of Sunnyvale are true and the Yahoo culture is broken, she had to do something big and soon. Maybe this is it or maybe there’s more coming on the heels of this decision.

    We wrote up our takes here: http://successfulworkplace.com/2013/02/27/marissa-mayer-needs-to-shock-the-yahoo-system/

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  10. What Marissa needs to do is not just ban WFH policy, but roll out a complete HR / company culture policy, on the lines of the Netflix “culture” document. A doc like that will put to rest the many wagging tongues, while painting a comprehensive picture of what the envisaged culture is.

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    1. It seems to me that some changes are happening within Yahoo!. We got to see some facets of them, but not all. Only Marissa can see the big picture as well as all the minor details, the rest of us can speculate all we want, but the true reason remains in the mist unless she speaks out (which I doubt would be her priority unless totally necessary).
      From my observation, contrary to public belief, Yahoo! employees are not as opposing to the policy as we might think:
      http://linwangge.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/yahoo-bans-working-from-home-not-a-bad-thing/

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