Working in an Office is More Collaborative

Marissa Mayer
Former CEO of Yahoo! Inc.

When Yahoo!'s (former) CEO Marissa Mayer banned her employees from working at home in early 2013, she sparked a culture war over "how people work today".

"Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," said Jackie Reses, the head of Yahoo!'s Human Resource and Chief Development Officer for Yahoo! in a memo. "We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."

Her opinion about Yahoo!'s workplace was defended by some by saying that "You only get innovative, breakthrough ideas when staff work face-to-face and exchange ideas serendipitously."

To others that decline, under such a goal-oriented approach, an all-or-nothing policy on working from home doesn’t really make sense. The issue isn’t so much the effect working from home versus the office has on performance and productivity. It’s the irrationality of trying to enforce uniformity when different goals might require different ways of working.

"Requiring everyone to be in fixed places at fixed times can promote rigidity and still not guarantee that teams work well together or produce high levels of innovation," said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School Professor who specializes in corporate culture and innovation.

But Mayer may already know that. Coming from Google, hardly known as a stuffy workplace, she obviously has seen how unorthodox approaches to life at the office can support huge successes - and huge profits. Some current and former Yahoo! employees have reportedly said that the new policy will separate out the truly productive workers from stay-at-home slackers who abuse the system. Mayer sees the policy as a test of commitment, which will help generate a trusted relationship with flexibility in where and how they work.

Mayer says she recognizes that people working alone tend to be more productive, but she also said that people working in an office tend to be more collaborative. And for Yahoo!, which she's trying to make changes, she wants employees to collaborate.

Coming from Google, with its free food and services such as laundry and shoe repair, blurs the line between work and home life in a way that seems designed to keep people at the office for as many hours as possible. Mayer believe the superiority of office togetherness. "After all, if a company is taking care of all your needs, why would you ever need to go home?"

"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side," said Reses. "That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices."

On the other hand, Yahoo! as a company that need productivity - requires employees for six hours of mental challenge to finish a single complex piece of work. For that type of work, people usually crave being anywhere but the office.

Marissa Mayer spoke out about this controversial decision she made: her ban on working from home.

At a conference for human resources professionals in Los Angeles, Mayer said "people are more productive when they're alone, but they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together."

Mayer decided on the ban after spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo!'s parking lots were and consulting Yahoo!'s VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough.

At Yahoo!, some employees reacted to the ban negatively, but most agreed with it, recognizing that Yahoo!'s culture needs a change.

Lots of people around the world work from home these days, and many of them - particularly mothers - seemed to view Mayer's ban as a threat on their way of working. As the story exploded, Mayer declined to react to it. Mayer only said that the ban was "wrongly perceived as an industry narrative."

Mayer said that her decision to ban Yahoo!'s employees from working from home took on a life of its own that she never intended.