Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Yahoo! We’re going back to the office!

March 11th, 2013 · No Comments · Uncategorized

It has taken me a while to form an opinion about Marissa Mayer’s decision to abandon Yahoo!’s telecommuting policy.  To be honest, I am still not clear on what I think about it.  Others have come down hard on Mayer.  Both Richard Branson and Bill Gates have criticized her publicly and the media has been generally unfriendly.  

Ms Mayer argues that asking people to return to the office will allow for greater creativity and innovation.  Her critiques suggest that the opposite is true.  I have repeatedly read the familiar mantra that “people are not creative between 9 and 5.”  Well, I think the reason that I have been uncomfortable weighing in on this debate is that the problem statement is too limited.  It really is not one way or the other.  Creativity, innovation, and performance for that matter, are not simple products of interaction with others – or autonomy over one’s work schedule.  Ms Mayer was not absolutely wrong – nor was she entirely correct in her policy change.  

I think it boils down to this.  Yahoo! is in trouble.  That is no secret.  The current model is not working.  There is a need to fix it.  Enter Ms Mayer who decides a change in corporate culture is necessary.  In order to achieve this change, she asks people to come to the office.  This does not seem out of line to me.  And, it is entirely separate from the question of whether working in the office supports creativity through interaction.  


Flexible work arrangements are a great idea for a range of reasons.  They provide autonomy for workers and support satisfaction with one’s working conditions.  Today’s technology allows us to interact with one another despite remote work arrangements – additional support for the work at home model.  And working in the office is also excellent.  I learn more walking around the school than I do from the emails and teleconferences.  But, that does not mean that one model is ‘absolutely’ better than the other.  It also does not mean that there is a model that fits all work environments.  If you are asking the question – where do worker’s perform better?  You are asking the wrong question because there is no clear answer.  

A useful frame for these types of debates is – here are the advantage and disadvantages of this model of work – what fits with our needs and the needs of our workers at the moment?  So I still don’t have a direct response to Ms Mayer’s decision but I am okay with that.  As an Yahoo! outsider, I can’t profess to know what needs to be done today.  So, as with any good academic, when asked for my opinion on the telecommuting question, I can only answer – it depends.  


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