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Marissa Mayer – PR Disaster or Verdict on Telework?

Leadership

The past week demonstrated the perils of lacking straight talk: Marissa Mayer’s decision to corral the Yahoos has been captivating media outlets and HR professionals. Renegades such as Sir Richard Branson repeated their firm belief that the office is a thing of the past. Competitors and work practice experts have been calling Mayer’s decision as setback and regression. Gender equity proponents point to Mayer’s nursery next to her office and the unfairness that curbing “work@home” brings to less privileged working mothers.

This whole story seems more like a PR disaster than a verdict on telework.

Let’s recall what happened:

  • Yahoo announces Mayer’s decision to end “work@home” – some exceptions apply.
  • The official spin is that the measure is about “supporting collaboration and creativity through increasing facetime and chance meetings”.
  • Just a day later, “Ex-Yahoos Confess: Marissa Mayer Is Right To Ban Working From Home” – yes, there are slackers, and yes, some Yahoos work on their own startup while being clocked in on Yahoo. More interna are leaked.
  • The following day we learn that Mayer was wondering about empty parking lots and poured over VPN logs in her data-driven quest to see what’s going on. A big gap was found between those claiming to work from home and the number of VPN connections and cloud accesses.

Why the dress-up? It’s no secret that Mayer was hired to bring back an ailing company. That may – and seems to – include lacking work morale. In a healthy organizational climate professionals want to be meaningful contributors. They have chosen to work there after all.

And that’s where the bigger story lies: I am seeing an engagement issue here – not a work practice issue. This should have never been a discussion about the usefulness of telework the banning of which hurts good employees. Telework makes undoubtedly sense. Many companies demonstrate how this can be made to work. Plenty of studies provide evidence of claims of increased productivity, work satisfaction, and workforce engagement.

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Despite all the brouhaha Mayer’s move seems to have been less about serendipitous meetings and sparkling idea sessions at the water cooler. It has been a disciplinary move to help reignite a work culture where too many employees seem disengaged from their employer’s mission. That’s the problem – not telecommuting.

Why not call it that?

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