In my very first high-tech job during the dot com boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, my manager bought us all the book Who Moved My Cheese? and made it required reading for the team. The book, in essence, is how the workforce can get complacent when we get comfortable. We must acknowledge that change happens all the time. With practice, we can anticipate changes and learn to adapt to changes more quickly than before. In the end, it’s important to be ready to change quickly. The faster we can change, the more we can enjoy those changes. In my line of work focused around business transformation, Who Moved My Cheese? has remained one of the most important books in my repertoire.
Last week, Marissa Mayer, the first female CEO to be a pregnant when she took the role, a woman in her thirties, and now a mother of an infant got a ton of flack from the working world (and even the non-working world when I look at my Facebook friends all fired up about this issue) when she revoked the right to telecommute at Yahoo! Employees have until June to figure out where the closest office location is to their home before action will be taken. And by action, I’m assuming that means “move or your fired,” but the memo isn’t so clear on the details. She has moved Yahoo’s cheese and folks are freaking out!
I’ve been working from home in Silicon Valley for the last five years. I don’t work for Yahoo!, but I do work for a high-tech giant. I make an effort to drive the 90 minutes one-way in traffic to our corporate headquarters on the peninsula a couple times a month to be able to collaborate with my colleagues and get face-time with our executives even if it is only bumping into the Senior Vice President in the break room. I work hard at home to be productive and stay visible. After five years in the work-from-home rat race, I can honestly say that it’s easier to be collaborative and energetic in the office than outside of it. Sure, my productivity may suffer a bit more in the office than at home… but that’s due to the synergy of information sharing, creativity, and brainstorming increasing a hundred-fold while I’m in the office.
Mayer is right about one thing… companies aren’t just measured by the productivity of their workforce. You can’t just put your head down and focus 100% of the list of tasks that you’ve been assigned. In the high-tech world, there’s always a need to get new ideas, to improve what’s already been done, and to keep growing. That’s why I think Mayer’s biggest challenge now, besides dodging the rotten tomatoes, is making sure that the right people are in the right offices together. Collaborative innovation won’t work any better if teams are spread across continents. If you can’t actually see your manager, your team, your colleagues that are working on similar projects as you, then the benefit to working in the office is lost.
Which leads me to believe that this centralization of Yahoo’s workforce has more to do with middle-managers being out of touch with their employees. This isn’t about making working families suffer; it’s about gaining control of the workplace. It’s about seizing a bloated workforce. It’s about turning around a failing company.
Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo! She’s not there to make sure all the mommies are happy. She’s responsible to Yahoo’s shareholders to turn around a company that many in this valley have already written off. Stop making her the poster-child for every working parent in the world. She’s not the face of the modern working mother. How could she be? She holds the #1 seat at Yahoo. Her job is to make Yahoo! a profitable, successful company. It isn’t to uphold policies that aren’t working for the business, even if the rest of us outsiders think those policies are important.
Can anyone give Mayer the benefit of the doubt that she made an informed decision about this before the announcement? Mayer moved the cheese. I think it’s time for Yahoo employees to put on their work shoes and get ready to run with her… or be left behind.