By now, we all know that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, announced this week that she has banned employees from working at home. After the collective “Gasp!” that swept across a country full of remote workers had finally subsided, we were left to debate the wisdom of such a decision.
Clearly there are good arguments for such a restriction (it allows more face-to-face time with colleagues, encourages unscheduled “collisions” between co-workers that can lead to new ideas, and makes it easier to observe how much and how often people are working). And there are good arguments against such a restriction (lost time spent commuting, loss of flexibility, increased time and stress managing child-care in young families). But the truth is that the real issue that few are talking about is the impact on trust at Yahoo.
Trust is an amazingly important, and easily disrupted, ingredient for any stable, long-term relationship, either personal or professional. When trust exists, we can take risks and change the world together. When trust has been violated, fear and uncertainty rules our world, people watch their backs, and we start playing “cover-your-ass”. It’s not the kind of working environment that a struggling tech company needs.
This opens up a few questions that beg to be answered.
- Does Marissa trust us? If I were at Yahoo, I’d have a hard time believing that Marissa trusts that we are all working as hard as we can in the best interests of the company. I’d feel like, for all the talk about Yahoo becoming more innovative as a result of this ban, this was really just a way for her to keep an eye on all of us. Are there really that many people working on a start-up on the side while on the Yahoo payroll? If so, doesn’t it say much more about the quality of managers that oversees these remote workers, which will not be solved by simply calling them back to the office?
- Can I trust Marissa? I’d also wonder if I can trust Marissa to have my best interests at heart. As she is a very highly compensated CEO, I know she has a responsibility to the shareholders and board, but I wonder if she understands what it means for me to upend my life. Especially when the realities of her life are different from mine. Couldn’t there be another solution?
- Even if she trusts us, does Marissa believe in us? Which is why my biggest frustration would be that Marissa does not appear to trust the rest of us Yahoos to come up with a better solution than this. For all the bluster buzzing around the Internet about the relative benefits and drawbacks of allowing people to work from home, it feels like the thinking is at the wrong level. Instead of debating about whether people should work at home or in an office, the real task Yahoo needs to be solving is, “Develop creative solutions to improve innovation and productivity and regain our standing as a tech industry leader.”
Sitting here in my (home) office I can come up with half a dozen ideas right off the top of my head to solve that challenge, and none of them have to do with where my desk is. Imagine what a team of Yahoo’s best and brightest could come up with! And if they had a team of Yahoo developers with them, they could immediately start prototyping some ideas that could eventually turn into money-making products. Because, if Yahoo is having a problem with productivity and innovation amongst its remote workforce, I’m pretty sure that many of the other 499 of the Fortune 500 are having the same problem. And if Yahoo is saying they can’t find a way to use technology so that I can be innovative and productive no matter where I’m sitting, its time to short their stock.
And if in the end, one of the recommendations is to have people start coming into the office everyday and stop working from home, at least the recommendation would be coming from a group of people who are working from home offices that look like mine, not one in a penthouse atop the Four Seasons San Francisco. And that would be a recommendation I could trust.