On Marissa Mayer and the Telecommuting Ban

2008. I just gave birth to my second child and I was working from home as an Instructional Designer and Adjunct Professor. I officially transitioned to the title of full-time “Work-At-Home Mom” and I knew that’s where I was supposed to be. I took my hard earned MA from Columbia University and years of industry experience to enable a new career for myself, one where I had the flexibility to telecommute. I knew that being a WAHM was the best way for me to raise a family and still build my career. But I also knew my ambition and drive wasn’t going to stop there.

Being a working mom trying to forge a new path, I idolized women such as Cathie Black. That same year I became a WAHM, I read her book Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) and lived on her every charted word.

CathieBlackShe was my role model not because she was a WAHM (because she wasn’t) but because she was a working mom – a powerful, smart woman who at that time was running the show at Hearst Magazines. Yes, Hearst Magazines – for women in business climbing the corporate ladder, it doesn’t really get much better than that. I read every single page of her book and went to sleep thinking about each nugget of wisdom she shared. That book quickly became words to live by, it was my bible. My lifeline. Her words were inspiring. Every chapter became more encouraging and by the end of the book I felt that I, too, could become a CEO and start my very own company.

Fast forward to 2010 and there stands Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook since 2008, another woman I admired. Sheryl could run circles around any guy in technology and write code just as well as any of them, if not even better. In an era of blogging and social networking she has been viewed as a pioneer – another powerful woman paving the way in the industry.

When I began my blog in 2009, Sheryl was one of those Harvard graduates who kept raising the bar and every headline I would read about her I wanted to gain more knowledge. She motivated me to learn as much as I could within the digital space. Sheryl is about to launch a new book entitled “Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead” which is already receiving tons of criticism and it hasn’t even been released yet. So until I read the book for myself, the jury is still out on that one…

However, fast forward one more time to 2013. And Marissa Mayer.

Need I say more?

In once quick Google search, you’re guaranteed to find tons of articles and blogs outraged at how the new Yahoo CEO has banned telecommuting beginning in June for all Yahoo employees. Yahoo – you know, the tech company – the one that sells products to businesses to use “anytime, anywhere.” Yet, with this ban, isn’t it all a bit contradictory when the company’s product is not the right fit for their own business model? Oh, the irony…

You’ll find headlines such as:

  • “Marissa Mayer is Wrong: Freedom for Workers Mean Productivity for Companies”
  • “4 Reasons Why Marissa Mayer’s No-At-Home-Work Policy is an Epic Fail”
  • “Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has Lost the Plot”
  • “Back to the Stone Age? New Yahoo CEO Bans Working from Home”

I’m sure by the time I publish this piece, so many more blogs and articles will have been written, read and shared among thousands. Because it’s just that kind of story; the kind that has sent shockwaves through the internet.

Because in the year 2013 it’s kind of hard to believe that we would be reading those headlines. In an era of the social media boom, Skype and tons of other tools and platforms that allow online streaming, web conferencing, file sharing and workers to collaborate from home at their own computers – it’s the kind of story that feels as though Marissa is simply out of touch with reality.

And to add fuel to the fire it’s also been noted that as a new mom, Marissa has paid to have a nursery built right next to her office. Pretty convenient, wouldn’t you say? What about the rest of the working moms who don’t have the luxury of affording such an opportunity? Oh right, just take away their flextime, that should really boost morale.

I may not work for Marissa Mayer but I am a working mother who has worked remotely for the past seven years. The news of this ban feels like a slap in the face for all of those who telecommute because the underlying message she is sending is that when you work from home, you aren’t as productive for the company. Actually, I couldn’t disagree more.

Some are giving her the benefit of the doubt by saying she must have good reasons for making this daring move – but for the love of God, I can’t seem to find one good reason. Especially from a leadership standpoint, not one rationale makes sense to me. If you’re looking to cut unproductive workers there are other solutions than to ban telecommuting for all – it’s just not the answer.

Whatever her intentions, I cannot side with any of it. If she’s looking to cut corners or as some say, “trim the fat” then she’s going about it all wrong. She says she wants to build community and create a productive culture in the workplace but I’m not sure what kind of culture she thinks she just started when she created this new policy.

Perhaps having some sort of benchmark or accountability in place would be a step in the right direction. Or how about demonstrating real leadership, specifically for telecommuters as a way to create a positive and productive workplace culture? This is not the kind of policy that comes from a progressive leader of a tech company in 2013.

I would love to know what Cathie Black would think about Marissa’s decision since her message has always been trying to get women to break the mold for the better – and I wonder what Sheryl Sandberg’s thoughts are whose new book is about to start a national discussion for women in the workplace.

Come on ladies, let’s stay on track and keep moving forward. We’ve come this far, let’s not switch paths in mid-flight now.

I want my daughter to have as many choices as I do, if not more when she finally steps foot into the workplace – so banning telecommuting for a major tech company in 2013? Sadly, that’s not going to help get us there.

Comments

  1. says

    Everything you said, Heather.
    All I can do is, hope that other companies make smarter moves when it comes to dealing with their employees and their choices.

  2. says

    There’s a part of me that is torn by this. One part thinks telecommuting should be an option. But another (bigger) part agrees with her decision because I see everyday the fact that I can problem solve with coworkers, give feedback on their creativity and see the effects of the (lack of) productivity of others who are allowed to telecommute – even with guidelines and standards in place. Not to mention that it makes you feel like you are part of something when you work with others. Especially with all the layoffs that yahoo has had to desk with over the years.

    What no one really is talking about are the benefits (vacation, personal time, etc) that they will still have. Yes, they lose the flexibility of being able to work at 2am when the house is quiet and they are exhausted… Or in some cases when they can’t answer work calls because the kids are freaking out in the background. (Or worse, when they do answer and the caller can hear it – yes, I’ve heard this. Even with the door to the “office” closed.)

    A lot of the positions that are telecommuting for yahoo are these customer service positions. Positions that would benefit from having coworkers there to help troubleshoot if the profunctory/standard answer doesn’t work.

    I am for Yahoo still allowing some telecommuting, but really only for contract positions. I know I’m in the minority with all of this- and that’s ok.

    • says

      You mentioned, “I am for Yahoo still allowing some telecommuting, but really only for contract positions” <—-The problem is, this is not what she's saying. She implementing a "one size fits all" policy with this ban and for me this is what doesn't compute.

      If the main goal by this ban is her way to weed out unproductive workers, there are many other ways to go about doing this than banning working remotely for ALL. This was too big of a decision too soon – her presentation in my opinion, is way off the mark.

      • says

        How I should have worded that part was IF Yahoo chose to allow telecommuting – I would be for allowing contracted workers to do so.

        Also – when you say it was too big of a decision too soon – how do you know that this hasn’t been discussed for years? And with “her presentation in my opinion, is way off the mark”… why is an internal memo that was leaked by disgruntled employees “off the mark”? Because she didn’t announce it publicly with all the data showing why she made this decision.

        The other thing that I didn’t elude to in my previous comment is this… if this weren’t Marissa Mayer… IF this were a man in that same position… would there be this attack by bloggers. Why is everyone attacking her? Why do we as women scream for equality – and then when one of us steps forward and leads like a man does – do we attack her for doing just what we want? (Just like most other female CEO’s that are trying to lead and turn companies around.)

        Yahoo is a public company. Everyone is saying that this is a directive from Marissa Mayer – but is it? Is it something that she herself came up with – or something that was started by board members? We can’t know everything about the situation. But we can respect HER for leading and trying to turn a company that was on the brink of failure around.

        • says

          Julie, of course we’re talking about this because she IS a woman. That’s a major point here – she is a powerful and visible leader and someone in her position we would think (or hope) would demonstrate leadership that helps women and moves us forward. Like you said, we don’t know the *full* story, but I can only hope that she has some brilliant plan up her sleeve that will soon make sense. At this point, I think it’s fair to say we agree to disagree.

  3. says

    I don’t have the option of working from home. But I absolutely agree with everything with every thing you say. With the cost of child care and daily expenses increasing, the ability to work from home is such an important option for parents. Taking that away is such a huge step backwards.

  4. says

    I agree with you, and I won’t write too much because you covered it :)

    I just don’t understand the one size fits all approach. Different positions have different needs, and getting rid of all telecommuting just seems like cutting down an entire orchard to harvest the apples. There are SO MANY ways to communicate with co-workers, from videoconferences to instant messaging.

    What disturbs me even a little more is the reaction this gets, because I am hearing a lot of grumbling about moms and unprofessional behavior and loud kids and what not. And it feels like another way to minimize the professionalism of women. Because there are other telecommuters, too. People who live in different cities than their “home office” from the beginning or have to move at some point.

  5. says

    I found her choice a bit odd too. I have the option of working from home when needed. For me, it is a struggle because I find so many things that need to be done at home. That being said, it’s a luxury that I value because I’m still able to contribute at work and be productive while still being there for my family. The balance – that’s on me. I think it’s only because I don’t do it often that I haven’t quite found my groove yet.

    I can’t believe she doesn’t see the irony in her choice considering she’s got an in-office nursery.

  6. says

    I just wrote on this topic on my own blog (http://breadwinningmama.com/2013/02/28/an-open-letter-to-marissa-mayer/) … from a slightly different perspective … but it is certainly a hot topic. As someone who gets to work from home one to two days a week, I see telework as a huge motivator and a great way to get the work done. I could perhaps see her point if some of these people who are working from home 5 days a week, as I also find my days in the office to be very fruitful when it comes to relationship-building and brainstorming. I think she should have evaluated this on a case-by-case basis. Some people work better in the home environment and some roles are suited for this set-up. I do think if you work at home you need to be fully available and have childcare. I hope she reconsiders in the future. I think this is a blow to Yahoo and her own personal brand.

  7. says

    Well, said…my career never allowed me to work at home…nursing and social work. However I do feel that there is much to be said for being able to stay home with your family and work from home.
    According to what I have read some of the Yahoo employees were not living up to their expectations while working at home…it seems to be more of a management problem. Perhaps removing some “dead wood” from their workforce might have helped more than changing the “work at home” option.

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