Faculty & Leadership Blog / Faculty in the News

Banning “Work from Home”: Marissa Mayer’s Attempt to Build Collaboration Likely to Yield Alienation

By: Danna Greenberg
Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior

As a management professor, I spend a lot of time with executives on the topic of organizational culture and how to build a united organization with shared values. This issue becomes even more important when organizations are in crises. So from this end, I applaud the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, for her recent announcement that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important.” I agree with her completely, as would most leaders. Communication and collaboration are critical to the success of Yahoo and to its ability to climb out of crisis. I take issue with the way in which Mayer is building these shared values – by banning work from home.

Mayer’s recent announcement suggests that she is out of touch with the realities of the work-life issues for most people today – including the 12,000 employees at Yahoo. As the New York Times suggested in a recent article about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, there is an “awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches, a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder.” The same awkwardness applies to Mayer’s lack of understanding of the importance of flexible work arrangements to Yahoo’s workforce. While Mayer has recently become a “working mother”, she is a working mother with a nursery built next to her office and multiple full-time household staff. She clearly does not understand the reality that most working parents face. For more than half of all married couples today, both partners work outside the home. Furthermore, Families and Work Institute has shown that workplace flexibility is the most important way that organizations can help working parents successfully navigate work and home so that they can bring their best self to their job and their organization. Organizations that are supportive of workplace flexibility are likely to be more productive, competitive, and profitable.

Mayer’s ban of work from home is particularly astonishing since it is coming from a technology company who not only has employees working from home, but also has 12,000 employees working across diverse physical locations. Yahoo believes they “help keep people connected to what matters most, across devices and around the globe.” If Yahoo cannot figure out how to use technology to build collaboration and communication among physically disperse workers, how can they honestly stand behind the technology they sell?

Mayer’s recent proclamation is not sending a message to her employees’ about collaboration and communication. Instead, she is saying that she doesn’t understand the work-life reality of her workforce, that she doesn’t trust them to be responsible enough to manage working from home, and that Yahoo has not successfully figured out how to use technology to engage staff across disperse work locations. Perhaps it is time to sell Yahoo stock.