Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dear Marissa Mayer

You really stepped in it, didn't you?

By now the entire world has read about your edict at Yahoo! that all employees have to work in the office. That you will no longer allow anyone to work from home, and that any employees currently working remotely choose between returning to the office or leaving the company.

Look, I understand why you did it. I get that you are trying to resuscitate a dying company and you think that having employees physically present will help do that. Or maybe you think that this new rule will help foster an atmosphere of cohesion and creativity that has been missing at Yahoo! as of late. And the truth is that in a perfect world, your new rule seems like a compelling one. But we don't live in a perfect world, and I am afraid that what you are proposing will do far more harm than good.

I know that you are just trying to do your job, and you don't mean to make a statement on working parents and working women and the role that feminism plays in our places of business, but that is exactly what you are doing.

Last year you were criticized after you announced that you would only take a two week maternity leave after having your first child before beginning your tenure at Yahoo! and that you would be working at home during those weeks. And while I, and many others, thought that you were crazy, feminism is about choice, and it was certainly your choice to decide the length and character of your leave.

But what you are doing by terminating all flex-time and remote working arrangements with your employees is effectively removing choice from the equation, and making it infinitely harder for your employees to achieve the same success that you yourself enjoy.

It makes us think that you just don't understand the pressure that normal people face. Like you don't get that balancing work and life and family and kids is hard.

Because it doesn't seem like it has been particularly hard for you.

With endless financial resources, you are able to hire all the baby-sitters and nannies that you may want or need to help make sure that your child is safe and well-cared for. Because you are in charge you were able to build a private nursery near your office so that you can spend time with your baby and be in the office at the same time.

I bet there are plenty of dedicated Yahoo! employees who would love to build a nursery in their office so that they can keep their kids close. Since that is quite obviously not an option for the average working parent, instead they decided to create a flexible work arrangement so that they could be good employees and good parents all at the same time. And your policy just made that tenuous balance even shakier, if such a thing was even possible.

It's like you're telling your employees that you won't pay them to work at home, but that you will pay to bring your own home to work. How is that fair?

And it isn't just about the working parents. It's about anyone who has ever been sick. Or who has an ill parent or family member. Or who needs to wait at home one day because the washing machine repairman said that he would be there between one and five. Or who has a driveway covered in two feet of snow and completely impassable.

Life is all about balance. We all have our attention divided among a thousand different things all the time. We try to be good employees and good spouses and good friends and good parents. And sometimes, we need just a little bit of help. A little flexibility, if you will.

As a lawyer in a big Manhattan firm, I know firsthand that flexible work arrangements are not perfect. I know that there will be people who abuse them, and people for whom they just don't work. But I also know that there are plenty of people who manage them successfully, Plenty of people who use working from home as an opportunity to do good work, save time commuting, pick their kids up from school, be a physical presence in their children's lives, care for sick parents and spouses, and then open up their computer and get right back to work once the dishes are done and everyone is settled for the night.

Study after study has shown that flexibility matters to employees. That these kinds of work-from-home arrangements translate into happier and more loyal employees.

And I know that you aren't trying to make a statement on the benefits or pitfalls of a flex-time arrangement, but you are smart woman Marissa Mayer. What, exactly, did you think was going to happen?

I fear that this decision of yours is a giant step back to a time when working parents had to sneak out of the office early if they needed to pick up their kids. That it layers on even more guilt about the work-life balance at a time when working women are striving with all our might to find solutions that lighten our guilty load.

I understand that you are first and foremost a CEO trying to save a company. And if you do manage to do that, but end up with a building full of employees who are good at showing up on time but little else, what is it, exactly that you will have saved?


  1. Well said, Samantha. I work from home three days a week, and it's a huge factor in how I view the company (positively, by the way). It'll be interesting to see how this Yahoo! thing develops. . .

  2. I have worked remotely for over a decade. Even without the flexibility it gives me as a parent, the bottom line is I am so much MORE productive when I don't (a) take a lunch hour; (b) commute; (c) wear real pants. The whole private nursery thing makes her sound so tone deaf I can't stand it.

    1. God, yes. I would be so much more productive at work if I didn't have to wear real pants.

  3. This issue makes me so mad that I start sputtering biased and inane things, like "Why doesn't the older generation just die so we can run things the way we want?" I have five direct reports and I truly could not care less about their face time. I care about their deliverables being completed well and on time. The only reason I pay any attention at all to their hours is because my bosses are still stuck in a punch-clock mentality.

    For most professionals, the work day doesn't end when we leave the office anyway. If I'm reviewing financial statements, I can do that just as well sitting on my couch at home, and I often work more effectively without the constant interruptions that come with being at the office.

    Technology has freed us to be able to maintain productivity regardless of physical location, and it is beyond bizarre that the leader of a technology company would remove that freedom from her employees. I would expect her to champion it instead.

  4. By the way, I love your new header! Beautiful.