At the risk creating a reputation as yesterday’s man, I’m fully supporting Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s ban on working from home. Frankly, there aren’t many of us out there applauding this controversial big play. Several journalists, tech pundits, and business leaders have called her gambit regressive, old-school thinking, anti-family, and a giant step backward. However, none of the naysayers seem to realize that she is faced with a turnaround situation. Ms. Mayer was hired away from Google to reverse 4 years of eroding revenue. Radical change is required. To fulfill any turnaround mandate, a leader has no choice but to initiate substantial cultural and strategic change with a firm hand, not a weak wrist.
Ms. Mayer is no stranger to the utopic corporate culture she is trying to create. She grew up in the house of Google where employees were encouraged to come to work and work together. During her 13-year tenure, Google invested in making their bricks and mortar facilities conducive to onsite collaboration. The strategy worked like a charm. So why wouldn’t she want to instill this model at Yahoo? If the hordes of telecommuters were adding massive value to the organization, Ms. Mayer would not risk their exit because of this alteration to their working conditions. I think she sized up the work force and concluded that her most valuable employees were the ones prepared to come into the operation every day. These are the people who will represent Yahoo’s future.
Working from the office isn’t for everyone, and sure, Yahoo will lose some top talent in the coming months. But let’s be honest; there are a heck of a lot of folks out there who buy into the logic that working under one roof, side-by-side and face-to-face with colleagues bolsters communication and collaboration. Ideas and insights come from personal interaction, whether those touchpoints are in formal meetings or casual chats in Yahoo’s hallways and cafeterias. “One Yahoo” means physically being together and moving in one direction like a flock of geese.
Reversing several years of declining revenue is never easy, and turnaround strategies based on doing more of the same, but trying to do it much better, seldom work. Such plans are risk-averse; they are not transformational, not strategic, and not game-changing. Success depends on one or two big (and courageous) plays. Ms. Mayer’s first big play is cultural. To recapture the hearts and minds of current and future customers, her next play will have to be strategic within product and service.
In 24 to 36 months, Yahoo will be a different demographic and psychographic animal. The competitive advantage lies in how Yahoo’s employees work together to fulfill Marissa Mayer’s strategic vision. In her mind, everyone under one roof improves the odds of success. All she has to do now is chose the right room-mates.