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Friday, April 19, 2013

Better Late Than Never: Yahoo’s Mayer Finally Talks About Telecommuting 04-20

Better Late Than Never: Yahoo’s Mayer Finally Talks About Telecommuting 


At a human resources conference yesterday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer finally commented on the massive controversy generated after the Silicon Valley Internet company decided to end its work-from-home offering to its employees.

News of the change came in February after AllThingsD published a hopelessly awkward memo on the new dictate that resulted in a firestorm of debate.

That was no surprise, since the missive was confusingly penned by HR head Jackie Reses, who noted, in part: “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” Along with an incomprehensible aside about the “cable guy,” there were few details.

And because Yahoo PR’s goal is to not comment, except when pushing shiny new products, it was disinclined to say anything at all once the memo was public. ATD reported initially it was a couple hundred employees, but the memo made it unclear who would be impacted and how. Yahoo later made an unusually bloodless statement that work from home was not what was right for the company at that time, given its need to turn itself around.

Mayer underscored that point in her keynote speech, with Fortune reporting that she put up an image of a purple elephant with WFH letters on its side and said, “I need to talk about the elephant in the room.”

She also tried to push blame onto, well, I am not sure whom, noting, “It was wrongly perceived as an industry narrative.” This mistakes-were-made tactic was clever, but the situation spun out of control simply due to the fact that Mayer was tin-eared on a hot-button issue and was poorly advised not to give a quick and cogent explanation of it at the time, causing a lot of unnecessary external and internal confusion and worry.

What was too bad was Mayer had a valid enough point — even if it was very harsh medicine to end the popular policy — that Yahoo probably needs all hands on deck right now to return to innovative relevance. She also said in her speech that while “people are more productive when they’re alone … they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”

As I said, it’s an excellent point, even if how Mayer delivered her message turned out to be a lesson as a new CEO in how it’s not what you say, but how you say it. And, of course, when.

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