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    marissa mayer is smarter than you...

    Gregory Walker
    Mar 3, '13 12:21 PM EST

    much ink has been spilled the past couple of weeks over yahoo ceo marissa mayer's recent decision to require all employees to work inside the office. a vast majority of the knee jerk responses have focused in on why at-home workers are more productive, have a healthier work-life balance and generally happier employees


    you know what? all of those reactions can be backed up by some great data and are generally sound, accepted business practices in the early 2000's. 


    and they're all wrong for yahoo (right now). this is why marissa mayer is smarter than you.


    yahoo, as a company, is currently a shell of what it once used to be. talent has been leaving in droves over the past few years. since 2009, they've turned over ceo's like a line cook flips burgers. revenues are falling, but more importantly, the product focus is a mess. i think most of the employees who've moved to 'at home' working have done so solely to escape the highly dysfunctional and toxic environment that's been steeping for the past decade or so. can you blame them?


    what ms. mayer knows is that nothing short of a full-overhaul of the office culture is needed to even create an environment capable of delivering the kind of online experiences that drive their future trajectory. you can't change an office culture - IN THE SHORT TERM - when a significant chunk of your employees never interact face to face. let's be real - working from home is a lot like suburbia - quiet, isolating (in a sense) and, well, comfortable. 

    yahoo doesn't need 'comfortable' right now. it needs sparks, caused by friction, and you maximize those chances by pushing people into a closer physical proximity (the urban city). and ms. mayer's smart enough to understand that the short term fallout from very 'comfortable employees' and a trigger happy punditry is a small price compared to the long term culture she wants to create. 

    yes, she's going to be accused of blatantly creating a double standard - the ceo telling everyone to toil away in the office while she takes off in time to catch dinner with the husband and baby. but, if you read the contents of the memo, this isn't the point. i'm assuming flex time is still intact, that a reasonable work-life balance is still desired for each employee and that some people will still largely be on the road, working away from the office. none of these, though, are the same as working full time from 'home' (or the local cafe) WHEN YOU CAN JUST AS EASILY COME INTO THE OFFICE.


    my guess? employees will eventually be allowed to once again work away from the mother-ship. but you know what? if ms. mayer pulls off the cultural transformation she's embarking on, i'm not convinced quite as many will actually want to flee.


    • Some good points, but they would be better made with proper writing convention — capitalization, etc. This isn't a Facebook wall, so let's try to keep the standards up, no?

      Mar 3, 13 12:39 pm  · 

      Agreed. I'd expect higher editorial standards from Archinect.

      Mar 3, 13 12:41 pm  · 

      sorry guys (pejoratively), this is just how the cool kids roll these days...

      Mar 3, 13 1:00 pm  · 
      boy in a well

      we have broken the chains of grammar!

      i is spartacus!

      Mar 3, 13 2:40 pm  · 
      Tim Williamson

      For the past 3 years I've worked from home (although not in the IT industry) for a company that is based out of state and for 16 years before that I worked in offices.  So I'm both biased and, I think, somewhat qualified to comment.

      Perhaps this announcement is really just a shrewd (and somewhat evil) way to reduce the number of staff at Yahoo without having to do layoffs or pay severance packages?  Many Yahoo employees who currently work from home may see this as the “writing on the wall” and find other jobs. 

      Also, I disagree with the premise that this decision demonstrates that Marissa Mayer is smarter than everyone else.  Just the opposite, if you ask me.  This demonstrates to me that even very smart people can occasionally make really poor decisions.  

      Mar 3, 13 3:26 pm  · 

      Whenever all of the conversation is away from the product and about office culture or politics its a bad sign. Yahoo continues to be a sh--show. 

      Mar 3, 13 3:44 pm  · 

      Cassels and Crain: You know this article is part of a personal blog hosted on Archinect, right? Not an archinect-edited article? 

      Mar 3, 13 3:53 pm  · 

      Steven Ward,

      Yes, but that doesn't change the fact that the good points this post raised would only be bettered with an appropriate presentation.

      Mar 3, 13 4:13 pm  · 

      darkman - i agree.

      tim - ok, maybe we should point out that the 'you' isn't 'everyone else'. it's the pundits and employees who are airing their gripes publicly or who are trying to turn what is clearly a very local issue (how do we rebuild our culture internally? we're going to put them into a building together. for a while at least) into some proxy 'battle' against the entire idea of working 'away from the office'. 

      so, in that regard, i think she's smarter than the employees who are grumbling and definitely smarter than the pundits who have completely missed the point.

      Mar 3, 13 4:20 pm  · 
      vado retro


      Mar 3, 13 5:58 pm  · 
      Tim Williamson

      Greg - perhaps this is a case of "no such thing as bad publicity", as it has lots of people talking about Yahoo and their CEO du jour. Nothing short of a scandal or bad news (massive layoff, quarterly loss, etc.) could generate this much press. I don't see this as a battle Yahoo has started against the idea of remote employees. Instead I think when a company talks about needing to fix their "culture" or takes steps in that direction that they are avoiding the real issues. It's like saying "Our company is losing money, so let's re-write our mission statement!"

      Mar 3, 13 6:34 pm  · 

      tim - a company's culture isn't a 'real' issue? i'd beg to differ on that count completely. your employees are the engine that creates your product. if they're not on the same page - or on the page she wants them to be on, it's not a good thing.

      look,  obviously, from what i've been able to read, my personal take is that the move is probably a good one in the long run. whether or not it was 'leaked' by yahoo's p.r. team... yeah, i'm going to say not. negative pub is running far higher than the positive. 

      Mar 3, 13 7:33 pm  · 

      OK, so a couple of points from what Marisa has said

      1. The majority of the people that work from home at this company are customer service representatives - not the creative force that drives this company. and
      2. Her decision was based on people not logging onto the VPN network enough so it was a productivity issue.

      Only she knows the specifics of the firms situation but I think that she could have handled this better. There should be a good life balance between work and personal life and if you are a desired employee but live 2 hours away why should this person waste 4 hours a day coming to work everyday when they could be working or resting there mind by sleeping a little more? This situation is especially true in citys, where real estate is too expensive to live near work and commuting is inevitable. The trend to work from home will continue grow as the population of the earth grows and it becomes to hard to own a house and live near a city where businesses flourish.

      Mar 3, 13 9:15 pm  · 

      Good points Gregory. I think you got it exactly right. Skthough i have akso read that the new rules are indeed also intended to cut chaffe of what sreve Jobs called the B players

      My capitalization and spelling all courtesy of my phone. Otherwise I'd be cool too.

      Mar 3, 13 9:16 pm  · 

      Damn spell checker.

      Mar 3, 13 9:17 pm  · 

      outthere - customer service is part of the package - i'd argue they should be co-located, but that's easy for me to say. but, where i completely agree with you is that you don't want someone having to drive/commute/whatever for that long of a time each day. the waste in all terms is pretty bad (we could discuss, though, why the person has to live that far away, but it'd be a straw argument in the end). 

      and, what we're both saying isn't negated by what she's asked for. 

      could she have handled this better? no idea - yahoo has how many employees? if you start giving person or group 'a' the privilege to work from home, but tell everyone else to show up, what does that say? so, again, i think it loosens up after a while, but i can see the rationale in making no 'real' exceptions for now.  

      Mar 3, 13 9:47 pm  · 

      what's astonishing, no not the no-caps, is that no one considered her reaction, and letter, as an attempt to be seen as one who can drop the hammer, be seen as male to the shareholders that have nearly zero confidence in a company nearly beaten to death by incompetence. go ahead, google it, you'll find the criticism out there, she is not interested in life/work balance, she is interested in share price, fuck your wife/husband/family dynamic. the whole reason for hiring her is her Mad Men'g of the female CEO. at the end of the day though two things are clear; she's no Jobs and she has a uterus, two things her shareholders will hold against her.

      Mar 3, 13 11:05 pm  · 
      Tim Williamson

      Greg - I completely agree that employees are the most important thing when it comes to a company's success and would even go so far as to say that hiring the right people is more important than proper management.  At least that has been my experience, with hiring the right, and sometimes wrong, people.

      As I said, I'm biased on this issue.  In addition to working remotely I currently manage remote staff in 5 different states.  Most, like me, are not within commuting distance of an office.  If I told them that they had to work in the company office in a few months (thereby forcing many to relocate to another city) the majority would quit.  I don't know if this is the case at Yahoo, but it would not surprise me if it is.

      Mar 3, 13 11:20 pm  · 

      Good title. Made me read it.

      Agreed on the caps issue (or lack thereof), btw.


      Mar 4, 13 8:27 am  · 

      ok - i've tried to stay out of 'cap-gate' so far, but since it seems to be of a genuine concern: i've written this way for anything more 'informal' for the past 20+ years. yes, i'm fully aware that it's not proper editorial 'form'. i've been lucky enough to contribute writings to a few publications over the years and write way more than enough proposals to know the difference between what's proper or not. 

      i see this kind of outlet (along with my own personal website) as a much more informal (nay, intimate) way of putting down thoughts about different topics. i don't personally carry the same conviction about maintaining the same standards as a more 'formal' venue would carry. 

      that said, the critique is valid and much appreciated. who knows, you may just get me to clean it up next time. i'm just glad you all are taking the time to read it.

      Mar 4, 13 9:48 am  · 

      greg, i do the same thing, except when i post from my phone, and then it seems too much of a bother to undo the auto-cap.

      Mar 4, 13 10:31 am  · 

      if they still do flex time, then I don't see what the big deal is.  IMO - working from home is for things like when daycare falls through or you're taking care of a sick family member - or when you're waiting around for some utility provider - or you have a broken leg or something... it's a temporary thing.  It's for making up time that would normally be lost - not for someone to be able to sit around at home in their PJs.

      Mar 4, 13 10:33 am  · 

      Love the picture you chose, Greg,  though you cut out the infamous red ball. ^^
      It's so bizarre, yet obviously orchestrated in every detail.
      The latter can  be applied to the whole topic as well - I think she has her P.R. stuff down cold.

      Mar 4, 13 11:08 am  · 

      my girlfriend is a ROWE worker, and she doesn't sit around in pj's, trust me, i long for the opportunity she has. she's much more productive.

      Mar 4, 13 11:09 am  · 

      jadzia - i tried to find the overall one at a high enough resolution, but...

      beta - see, we're the cool kids now.

      toaster - on a certain level, this is all much ado about nothing. i agree with beta's assessment: she's getting crazy extra scrutiny because she's a female ceo in a really high profile spot and with an insanely difficult ship to turn around. 99 other companies that do this don't even elicit a yawn.

      Mar 4, 13 12:01 pm  · 

      There seems to be some irony in focusing on the capitalization in an otherwise well executed post about focusing on a single over-analyzed aspect of an otherwise strong attempt to re-vamp a lagging brand search engine. Meta-analysis don't you think?

      Greg, I think the folks complaining the most are too insular in the valley counter-office culture to realize how good of a move this may be. Even QA personnel could benefit from having some good face to face conversation with PM's. If anything, Yahoo has grown too sluggish and needs to be trimmed down. Quality creative talent doesn't jump ship at the first sign of their bubble being popped (in this case, getting out of their comfort zone of working from home). If there were actually some good things being offered by being present at the office, good personnel would either buy into the potential to re-brand this media search engine (or whatever you would it call it these days), or have more factors to weigh against Ms. Mayer's strategy than just being asked to come into the office once in a while.

      Mar 4, 13 1:56 pm  · 

      mfischer - i like how you think...

      Mar 4, 13 2:58 pm  · 
      won and done williams

      In regards to cap-gate, under a previous screen name, I didn't capitalize anything either. Then I asked myself, why do I go to all the trouble to try to spell correctly and use proper punctuation, but willfully refuse to use proper capitalization? Well, the answer is because I once had a girlfriend that did it, and yes, I thought it was cool, but in retrospect, it wasn't cool, it actually was kinda lazy and slightly affected, so after I changed screen names, I began capitalizing again, and you know, I like capitalization, almost as much as I like a good run-on sentence.

      In regards to Marissa Mayer... Marissa Mayer is not only smarter, but HOTTER than you. Yowza!

      Mar 4, 13 10:05 pm  · 

      i only go no-caps on personal internet posts, but i do like the simplicity of it. which is probably why the bauhaus explored it for a while. 

      i also probably don't mind that it's "slightly affected". aren't most of our lifestyle choices? 

      in my business writing i still use caps, but i've been exploring how far i can go with leaving out punctuation which doesn't aid in clarity. why write 'Mr.' when 'Mr' is just as clear. is there anything less clear about 'Steven R Ward AIA'? why do we use so many commas everywhere? i like the cleanness of the page without all of those dots and slashes.  

      anyway, it's a good thing these are choices, right? 


      to get back on topic, you guys have done a good job of analyzing this to death but i think the hoopla comes down to one issue: mayer is a woman. a lot of people think she's supposed to have a different approach to work/family issues than a male ceo.

      why can't we get over this? 

      she obviously just thinks she supposed to do the best job she can of leading this company that's got its challenges. 

      Mar 5, 13 7:17 am  · 

      i'm not going to just get over this steven.  capital letters are a tool of the bourgeois to oppress the working class.  i call on the proletariat of all nations to unite against capital letters!!!!!

      regarding yahoo;

      yahoo, as a company, is currently a shell of what it once used to be

      the product focus is a mess

      highly dysfunctional and toxic environment


      they've turned over ceo's

      this is all true.  changing the whole work at home thing doesn't address any of those things.  from what i've seen over the past couple decades, a ceo and board is no longer in charge of developing a product or service for a company; their job is to attract investors.  originally yahoo's product was an internet "portal."  that was a word people used a very long time ago, and yahoo competed successfully with msn and aol as a portal.  google created a search engine that provided results that were generally more accurate, but their real jump was to create a page without all the shit and banner ads.  shit (more specifically, they had new articles, stock tickers, weather, yahoo games, and things like that on their front page) and banner ads were yahoo's bread and butter.  without those, they have no business model.  they have no product. 

      when yahoo essentially died due to the fact their product was obsolete, they tried desperately to find new sources of revenue, such as something to do with hosting one of the news network's stories, but since they kept their "portal" structure and never got the clue that world changed they just kept slipping further into irrelevance.  this is the buggy whip story, and yahoo just isn't big enough for a government bailout (aol and msn are for what it's worth, regardless of how horrible their products may become). 

      there aren't really any attempts to focus yahoo's core product or attract consumers.  noone at yahoo seems to give a damn about what the company actually does.  the ceo's job isn't to clarify that; her job is to attract investors.  if the ceo isn't successful at attracting income from investors, they'll get a new one.  that's why they've had so many.  my guess is the job cuts were intended to do one of 2 things:

      a) cuts costs by reducing employee costs.  if they get a bunch of people to quit, they won't have to worry about unemployment or severance or things like that (i assume.  i don't know how that stuff works, but surely there is some reduction in cost of benefit packages if a person quits compared with layoffs).

      b)  attract investors by creating this big public move that makes it look like they're doing something that somehow might lead to profitability.  of course profitability doesn't really matter, since their income is mostly going to come from investors because noone is focusing on their product.

      if she figured out she can do both with one action, and it works to both increase investment and reduce cost, i suppose you have to give her credit for a really clever idea.

      you can't really expect the low-level coder to make strategic business decisions like "what's our product?"  that's going to have to come from someone fairly high up, and it's going to take some sort of leadership to push that vision through the company.  telling employees they can't work from home does not answer "what's our product?"  sticking a bunch of people in cubicles isn't going to fix the lack of leadership.

      Mar 5, 13 10:41 am  · 
      vado retro

      WhIlE hEr EmPlOyEeS aRe BaCk In ThE oFfIcE fRoM hEr TwEeTs It LoOkS lIkE sHe GeTtInG a LoT oF tImE iN oN tHe SlOpEs !

      Mar 5, 13 12:29 pm  · 

      Let's not leave out one very important aspect of this whole issue....Marissa Mayer is really HOT!

      Mar 5, 13 7:32 pm  · 

      +1 to vado...

      Mar 5, 13 8:38 pm  · 

      Ah the interwebs ... you can always count on the grammar police to come knocking when the intelligent rebuttal officers are off getting coffee and donuts. 

      Mar 6, 13 12:05 am  · 

      Beta, I've done a bit of research into ROWE for professional reasons, and one of the funny things about all of this is, when a company implements ROWE (Results Only Work Environment for those not familiar), there are typically a lot of layoffs in the first 6 months. Once people are only measured by results and not by timecards, it becomes abundantly clear who isn't cutting it. Ironically, some on this thread have suggested that the move towards a more traditional workplace is for the purposes of separating the wheat from the chaff, but I'd say that properly implementing ROWE policies would do more towards that end. 


      On cap-gate, I don't mind the unconventional posting style for short formats, but I admit it gets difficult to read over multi-paragraph postings.

      Mar 13, 13 9:37 pm  · 

      shes a hottie, Id go to the office if id get to see her haha

      Dec 17, 13 8:25 pm  · 

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Central to the blog is a long running interest in how we construct practices that enable and promote the kind of work we are all most interested in. From how firms are run, structured, and constructed, the main focus will be on exploring, expanding and demystifying how firms operate. I’ll be interviewing different practices – from startups to nationally recognized firms, bringing to print at least one a month. Our focus will be connecting Archinect readers with the business of practice.

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