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Marissa Mayer breaks her silence on Yahoo's telecommuting policy (cnn.com)
75 points by kjhughes 1680 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

>The shift in policy affects roughly 200 of Yahoo's 12,000 employees.

I see this statistic and I'm reminded at how much of a disingenuous uproar the policy change caused. Every time I read comments regarding this issue I'm more convinced the real issue is who issued the policy, and not the change itself.

A new mother canceling work at home while simultaneously raising her own child in the office is not hypocritical. It supports her position. And yes, a private nursery is a perk she receives as CEO.

A CEO gets a nursery: Outrage! CEO gets a private bathroom, private airplane, private car, meetings on the golf course, etc: normal operating procedure. I wonder why the nursery gets singled out for ridicule?

Couldn't really care less about her myself. No work from home changes it from a company I might work for to one I won't. It's incredibly valuable to be able to just sit and code some days with no interruptions. I did a stint at IBM once too and they were all for flexible working and had many studies backing it up. They saved a lot of money on offices and got better work done.

Re childcare, it does seem crude to rub the CEO only nursery in employees faces like she does by having it at the company. I know companies that provide free day care to all employees. If I was an employee like her who wanted my kid around and not in her position, I'd jump ship and go to one of those. Does she go around telling her employees how much more she earns than them as well? I hope not.

Per the article, Yahoo need innovation, not raw productivity. A bunch of Yahoo employees at home coding thousands of tested lines a day aren't going to help the company if it's all the same old crap Yahoo has been putting out for years.

I see this statistic and think it makes the stated reasoning even less logical.

From the article:

"people are more productive when they're alone," and then stressed "but they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together."

Really? 200 of 12,000 people were the difference between a collaborative environment and a non-collaborative one?

I am willing to accept that their reasons may have been good, and may work for them. I simply disagree with virtually everything that they have chosen to describe as their reasoning.

It seems a bad thing to me to expect that employees give up telecommunication even for family reasons when the CEO doesn't have to endure such a tough choice because they get a special CEO nursery.

Male CEO's can act like alpha animals, take what they want and flaunt blingy perks, but let a woman build a nursery... Employees never get the same perks as CEO's.

I don't understand where this response is coming from. I said nothing about gender. I can't actually think of a situation in which male CEOs, and male managers in general ("pointy haired bosses"), aren't relentlessly mocked. Attempting to portray a sexist double-standard seems like a stretch and a refusal to address the actual issue.

Right because male CEO's have never been ridiculed.

When they are they laugh in the face of the peon daring to question his greatness.


> If the male CEO goes out of his way to exempt himself from the rules that his employees have to follow, then yes, the disgruntled employees have a valid point.

But Meyer is being criticized for the nursery, a perk which made it more convenient for herself to follow the no-telecommuting policy, not to exempt herself from it.

The issue is a CEO who can afford to build themselves a nearby nursery for their newborn yet expects employees who can't afford such a privilege to follow a policy that prevents them from telecommuting in order to enjoy the same sort of family time.

On the other hand, can you really combine taking care of a baby with getting real work done? For some people and some babies, sure. But i switched positions on this topic when confronted with the noisy reality of my own son.

That's total BS. As a CEO she is paid well enough to easily afford having a live in nanny or a nanny for the day. Having a nursery just for herself comes across at completely unfair. Would you be willing to work for such a boss? I'm going to guess most of their best coders could easily get a job working somewhere else.

Your response I think only enhances the point parfe was making towards the end. She probably could afford most of the perks her jobs provides, but for some reason a nursery gets singled out as some outlandish thing. The fact is that they are perks, and being as she is at the highest position in a large company, she correspondingly gets the best perks. If you were offered or fought for a great perk as part of compensation for a position, would you turn it down because you could afford the perk without them giving it to you for free?

Or, saying it another way, as a software engineer, you are paid well enough to easily afford your vacation days unpaid. Having paid vacation days for yourself when so many people in the world don't comes across as completely unfair. Would you be willing to work with such a person?

> for some reason a nursery gets singled out as some outlandish thing.

It's got nothing to do with the monetary value of the perk. It's not outlandish, just in terrible taste as both a human and a leader. We work from home for many reasons, and being closer to our families is often one of those reasons. She outlawed WFH in order to have employees focus better on work, the communication clearly being "there is work time, and there is family time, and the twain shan't meet" -- and then promptly built a family-time haven for herself at the office.

That's what makes it offensive. It isn't that employees can't afford to be with their kids -- at least, not the same way that they can't afford a private jet and so forth. The message is, "We all need to buckle down and make sacrifices to rebuild Yahoo!... well, except for me. I can have it all."

> She probably could afford most of the perks her jobs provides, but for some reason a nursery gets singled out as some outlandish thing.

You're being obtuse. Obviously, the nursery is getting singled out because of the no-telecommuting policy. The policy conveniently doesn't impact her because she has the ability to build a nursery to address the issue of family time, a luxury her employees don't have. And so she is getting criticized for being inconsiderate of her employees and putting them in a difficult situation that she doesn't have to endure.

The issue isn't having perks as a CEO but using one's position to avoid dealing with a personal situation while expecting employees to make the sacrifice. It's uncompassionate. That seems like a reasonable criticism of a boss.

She pays for it herself. It isn't a perk.

Does her no tele-commuting policy not make her inconsiderate of employees who can't afford to build their own nurseries in order to spend the same amount of time with their families that she does? The message she is sending is that she expects people working for her to make a sacrifice that she has gone out of her way to avoid.

I'm guessing regular employees wouldn't be allowed to build something with similar proximity if they pooled their cash. Still a perk.

The internet has basically become a place for disingenuous uproar. There should just be a site called disingenuousuproar.com

On it!

Not to mention that she paid for it herself.

I see this statistic and I'm reminded at how much of a disingenuous uproar the policy change caused.

Yup. This.

It's also interesting to see how much of the uproar comes from folk who work at Yahoo (as far as I can tell - none of it.)

The two folk I know who work there, who would both love to telecommute, think the move to ban telecommuting was a really, really good one. They're both smart, driven techie folk who could get a job anywhere. Jobs that would probably pay more than they're getting at Yahoo. They've gone from polishing their resumes and considering resignation a few months back, to totally enthusiasm now.

Whatever Mayer is doing internally from what I can see, from talking to folk who actually work there, it seems to be working.

The private bathroom, private airplane, private car, meetings on the golf course, etc are ultimately superfluous. Slash them, and nothing bad happens.

The nursery is an entirely matter altogether. Without it, you either work from home or find daycare for the baby.

I do not see the distinction you drew between daycare and a car service. Why is one superfluous and the other not? Why does nothing bad happen if you cut the private plane, but something bad happens if you cut the nursery? I hardly think finding daycare for your child is a "bad" thing. At least not any worse than needing to take the time to drive yourself to work in a personal vehicle you pay to maintain.

There's a second elephant in the room, though a slightly more subtle one:

Was the elimination of WFH at Yahoo housecleaning? There have been many reports from former Yahoo insiders that the WFH policy was abused to no end by a small number of people.

I remember there was a large Microsoft layoff a while back during the fallout from the '08 crisis, which insiders also reported to be housecleaning. After all, what better opportunity to cut loose a lot of dead weight the company has accumulated, without incurring the requisite "is the sky falling at Microsoft?" reporting?

Personally I'd rather have people able to work remotely, but flexibility in staid, slow, crufty large corporations is more often a source of abuse rather than actual flexibility. I'm willing to believe that Yahoo's move was justified.

They lost a lot of good people during that period. They may have rid themselves of "dead weight" but scared the best employees off in the process (by severely hurting employee morale).

It seems Yahoo was fostering a dysfunctional office culture in general and WFH abuse was a symptom of that. I totally agree with you about housecleaning scenario.

Unfortunately that second elephant in the room isn't purple but is the invisible pink elephant that will never get addressed :(

Perhaps the most common and controversial aspect of Mayer's decision was the claim of hypocrisy regarding child care. Staying home with children to avoid the cost of a full-time nanny is a common reason for telecommuting. Some claimed hypocrisy for her installing a persona nursery next to her office for her own newborn while making Yahoo significantly less family friendly for its employees.

Although I never agreed with these criticisms, I'm annoyed that she apparently said, "I need to talk about the elephant in the room" and then avoided addressing this complaint at all. Unless she did and this was simply bad reporting which omitted any reference to it - I'd appreciate a link to the fill keynote transcript if one exists; I can't seem to find it.

My familiarity with this issue extends only so far as the coverage it has received on HN, and this is the first time this "most controversial" aspect of the decision has been brought up.

The whole nursery thing also strikes me as a bit of a red herring. Yes, CEOs of multi billion dollar companies taking home million dollar paychecks receive perks that rank and file employees don't get to enjoy. Maybe I'm just complacent, but that doesn't even begin to enter "controversial scandal" territory IMO.

I consider it controversial if the reasoning behind a policy is one the CEO isn't required to endure because of perks.

I take it you don't live in the US? CEOs aren't required to endure any policies. Nor Congress, or anyone else at that level. Some of us don't like it but it's the norm.

I was speaking morally, not legally.

My familiarity comes more from Slate Magazine, and especially it's sister publication DoubleX, where the child-care aspect was heavily emphasized both in articles and in their bi-weekly DoubleX podcast.

However, I strongly agree with your analysis of her nursery as a CEO perk, which might like her high salary is simply much better than what normal employees have access to. This is why I disagree with the claims of hypocrisy, as I alluded to in my original comment.

> Staying home with children to avoid the cost of a full-time nanny is a common reason for telecommuting.

I'm not sure I understand your point. Could you please elaborate?

How does working from home avoid the cost of a full-time nanny? If I work when I'm at home then I can't, by definition, take care of my children at the same time.

Assuming a minimal commute, working from home doesn't save hardly any time at all.

Anyone who's ever been at home with a child between the ages of 0-7 knows they pretty much need constant attention. Maybe you can put older ones in front of the TV and get them to a vegetated state while you write code for an hour or two at most.

Doing it occasionally with a sick child is understandable if it's a rare occurrence. I've done this quite often, but even then I'm always playing catch up at night after they go to bed. It wouldn't be sustainable every day.

We're not talking about babies here. My six year old can take care of himself just fine if he's fed and has an adult around in case of emergencies. I have worked in my home office for hours while he played in the rest of the house, watched videos, etc.

Daycare can be $500/week, for the privilege of simply having an adult be near my kid. If telecommuting helps me avoid that cost, it's a significant incentive.

Hmm, then I guess your kids are better behaved than mine:) I've tried this and it was so disastrous that I'd never let an employee do this.

There is just no way you can get proper work done if you are responsible for looking after any kid under the age of 12:)

I agree it may save money and time but I've never seen anyone not have it affect their work. You must be a rare individual:)

Under 12? Are you serious? Maybe you're being sly by hiding something loaded in "proper work". A 10 year old should be rather self-sufficient.

Even my four year old was able to take care of herself, playing games, browsing the web and so on. Cooking is the only thing we wouldn't let her do. Or perhaps you mean it's more appealing to hang out with them and play?

> I've tried this and it was so disastrous that I'd never let an employee do this.

It's not your employees' fault you didn't raise your children properly. Kids in Asia are doing hard manual labor on a farm at 7 or 8. They can definitely keep quiet and entertain themselves at that age.

Fairly certain having 7 or 8 year old kids doing hard farm labor is "raising them properly." More like "desperate poverty."

My point is that for the majority of human history, 7 and 8 year olds were expected to do things that were a lot more intense than simply not bugging their parents for a few hours at a time while they did office work. They aren't constitutionally incapable of it, and OP shouldn't make assumptions about the upbringing of his employee's kids.

Wow, that's a bit harsh. It can also depend on the personality of the child. Some kids like to have more attention.

Agreed, every child is different. What is the definition of properly and at what point does a child reach that state? The poster has minimised a complex parent -> child relationship to a a binary state of being raised properly or not.

I did it with my daughter after schools and I'll likely do it with my son again once he is school aged. For the first week or so, my daughter would come and pester me and I'd hold firm. And slowly it was less frequent until finally she stopped bothering me altogether and then we kept that up for years.

It's quite simple: school ends at 3pm. Somebody needs to pick up the kid. After that my 6 yo is perfectly capable of entertaining herself for few hours while I continue my work. And why would you assume minimal commute? For me that's 2.5 h a day, and that's not a lot by NYC metro area standards.

I would imagine that taking care of one's children does not require constant interaction. If that is the case then one could WFH for 8 hours a day but space out their time so that they can attend to their children's needs as they arise.

Depends very much on the age of the children. A friend has three, 6-10 years. It is not so easy to work from home when they are five or less. Try with someone else's kids and you will see.

> If I work when I'm at home then I can't, by definition, take care of my children at the same time.

Our telework policy spells that out and working from home to avoid child care is not allowed. I'm not sure how strictly they enforce this -- I don't have kids -- but then they also only allow us to telework one, maybe two, days per week.

>Perhaps the most common and controversial aspect of Mayer's decision was the claim of hypocrisy regarding child care.

That seems more like a rhetorical tactic than a genuine issue? (The hypocrisy, not child care in and of itself.)

>That seems more like a rhetorical tactic than a genuine issue?

I ascribe it to something else; Mayer is a female CEO, which I think causes many people to assign to her responsibility for championing women in the workplace. When she fails to live up to this standard which has been imposed on her, people cry foul.

Another relevant example is her interview awhile back where she mentioned she didn't really consider herself a feminist. This was met with far harsher criticism than I think any man would have received for making the same statement - "Oh really... which of your equal rights do you want to give back?!"

This is why I don't think the claims of hypocrisy are just a rhetorical tactic. People are genuinely disappointed in her failure to live up to the standards they've imposed on her, which they imagine that as a female CEO she has also set for herself and is implicitly broadcasting to the world.

Not to disagree with the point you are making, but just to add to it -- I'm sure the personal nursery bit was a part of the employment terms that Mayer must have negotiated before joining Yahoo!.

and working from home wasn't part of the terms any Yahoo employee negotiated before joining the company?

Edit: Not that I really have an opinion on the policy as it applies to Yahoo specifically.

> and working from home wasn't part of the terms any Yahoo employee negotiated before joining the company?

If it was a contractual employment condition negotiated before joining the company, then there wouldn't be complaints, there'd be breach-of-contract lawsuits.

"Our policy is X", "Okay, cool, I'd like to work somewhere with that policy" isn't a negotiation for a benefit that the employer is obligated to continue to provide.

There is a very big difference between working from home, an working from home while caring for a child. Most WFH policies only allow the former.

I think turnaround CEOs have the some of the toughest and most public jobs in the industry. The particularly difficult roles are for those individuals that already have a successful past (Mayer with Google) that are then implicitly 'expected' to bring new energy and vitality to companies simply because of those past successes.

Look at Ron Johnson, for example. His genius did wonders for Apple but the same concepts failed with a different industry in his tenure with JCPenney. There's no silver bullet, and what Mayer's doing with Yahoo may have some similarities with what was done early on with Google, but in order to cement Yahoo's independent identity, she's going to have to pursue some goals that aren't identical to things she's done before.

Ending WFH is perhaps a start. The externalities (noisy lashback from media, etc.) don't help, but she's going to have to face a lot more of that in order to institute long-lasting change.

You know how this works right? Everyone will call crap until the CEO is not doing well. Once the company shows signs of improving, they will immediately talk about the radical things they did and how they told you so.

> The shift in policy affects roughly 200 of Yahoo's 12,000 employees.

So what you're telling me is that only 1.6% of the company's employees WFH at all? Or is this 1.6% who work remotely in the usual case? I highly doubt only 200 employees take regular WFH days. I'd expect to get one or two if needed a week, so I'd suspect this impacts a LOT more people than she admits.

> ..but they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together.

So e-mail, chat, hangouts/skype, voip, etc. don't exist, as far as Yahoo is concerned? Collaboration does not require physical proximity. And if it's only 200 people who are working remotely, why is a mere 1.6% of the company making a DRAMATIC difference to collaboration and innovation within the company? I'm seeing a contradiction here.

I still maintain my stance on this move: it's a horribly shortsighted and poorly/hastily made decision which will negatively impact Yahoo significantly more than anyone expects. If someone is abusing a lenient policy, you ban that individual from working remotely, not the entirety of your company. What a massive overreaction.

> So e-mail, chat, hangouts/skype, voip, etc. don't exist, as far as Yahoo is concerned?

"Do not exist" isn't required for the claim to be valid; "are not as effective as face-to-face, in the room communication at facilitating collaboration" is sufficient. And, a fairly widely recognized fact.

You need to quantify "are not as effective." Is it 1000000000000x as effective? 5% more effective? If it's not boolean (such that "do not exist" is the effect), then the problem is probably significantly less severe than it would appear.

For the record, I completely disagree. For instance, personality would likely dictate what the most effective method would be on an individual basis, so that no general claim can be accurate.

I've personally been involved in collaboration over e-mail that was more productive than most meetings I've ever taken part in. I've never thought "this sucks, we should be doing this meeting in person," but I have thought the opposite many times.

> You need to quantify "are not as effective."

No, actually, you don't. Even they are even, in aggregate, even marginally less effective than face-to-face, they are a net loss to collaboration.

> I've personally been involved in collaboration over e-mail that was more productive than most meetings I've ever taken part in.

Sure, for lots of things, email is a better choice than a meeting. You can easily do email with people being in the same office building. OTOH, there are things where a quick face-to-face is more effective, and you can't do that when people are telecommuting.

> they are a net loss to collaboration.

Implicit is the assumption that high-bandwidth collaboration is necessary and useful to all people in all functions at all times.

It's not.

A designer might just need to crank out a PSD without 30 people dropping by their cube. A programmer might want to work on their tickets (which were created with collaboration) without talking to anyone.

Or, like you said, there may be some meetings where being f2f is better. It happens a lot. I schedule my wfh around my meeting days, usually.

> Implicit is the assumption that high-bandwidth collaboration is necessary and useful to all people in all functions at all times.

No, implicit is the assumption that high-bandwidth collaboration may become important to the roles of the people affected by the policy on short notice, not that it is necessary to all people in all functions at all times.

So the message is, be physically in the office because you (or I) may need high-bandwidth collaboration today? Sounds inefficient.

I'm willing to entertain the idea, but I'm not even sure your "it might be needed" explanation is true for BigCo's... look at the proliferation of open office plans, for example. COLLABORATION 24/7, YAY!

It's nice to see she does actually still have her head screwed on correctly. I think she could have avoided a lot of criticism if she had only spoken on the subject earlier.

It is fair to say that what works for one company will not work for another. Therefore it cannot represent an opinion on the industry as a whole.

Yahoo needs to reinvent itself. Working from home is so unimportant in the big scheme.

I think WFH is key to making good products, for focus and an external view. If Yahoo is still making peanut butter, getting internalized viewpoints isn't going to help improve external product development and perception. Groupthink is heavy in the office which is bad for external views of product. Also this concentrates employees to one locale, again lending to internalized viewpoints of how things are.

You're right that entropy moves that way, but you can solve this culture problem in the office with the right maintenance. Implementing a strategy that lets people feel comfortable throwing disruptive ideas up the ladder helps a lot. I tend to find the groupthink comes from certain personalities imposing their will on offices. At times its necessary but you also risk putting your staff in lockstep.

Agree - "design by committee" is a disaster and you many times get something mediocre, full of compromises. On the other hand, interaction, corridor-talks and chance encounters are key to idea-exchange which is also important.

It's interesting that both Yahoo and Best Buy both cancelled their work from home programs during a time when they are struggling to save their businesses. It would be far more relevant to me if a company that was posting record profits decided to kill its work from home program. Sounds like they were looking for a scapegoat.

It's not terrible to cancel that program for a while. Her previous counterparts spent too much time on politics and people at home weren't WORKING on what the company needed. When the company is out of control, somebody has to take reigns..and it usually sucks for everybody.

Just remember, MOST employers in the country DON'T OFFER work from home at all. Or of the do offer it, it is primarily for sales people.. That are never actually "at home". This whole thing is a top 10% problem.. Only the top richest companies offer top employees these type of options.

Now child care and commuting is a DIFFERENT problem. Perhaps Yahoo doesn't need all its staff in crazy expensive trendy cities. They could relocate some offices out to other places property values and commute times are more reasonable... But that is for another time.

Why not just fire people who don't produce? If they are on the clock bullshitting, remote or at the office, ax em and leave perks in place for good employees. If you have logs of them charging the company and not doing anything, fire them.

The new Yahoo Weather app mentioned in the article is really nice. However, one thing I'm surprised it doesn't let you do is take a photo.

"My goal is not to change the culture, but to amplify its greatness"

I'm glad she did that. One of the things that was a mess at Google was an intensional/extensional conflict. Throughout the 2000s, Google was viewed as "the cultural leader" and that exposed it to a lot of executive bikeshedding. Not everyone feels entitled to an opinion about how Google should run, but everyone has an opinion about how the cultural leader should be run. If I ever build a company that's a cultural leader, I'm going to try to have the reputation of a #4 player for that reason.

I admire Mayer a lot for having the cojones to say, "This isn't necessarily right for everyone, but it was right for us."

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