Marissa, Marissa, Marissa. Every time I turn around, there’s someone talking about Marissa. She’s everywhere. (Again.) And, yes, now she’s here. (Again.)
She’s rocking the world as a working mom. Telling us all how easy it is. And, now, she’s insisting that it’s her way or the highway.
You may recall, back in July — when she announced she’d be taking an outrageously short maternity leave — I said, “I can only hope that, in spite of [Marissa’s] personal choices, she’ll foster a culture where flexible schedules and long maternity leaves keep great talent motivated and loyal.” Hmm, I guess she doesn’t read my blog. (And here we thought she did it all…)
That’s right, last week she had HR announce that, come June, it will be mandated that all Yahoo! employees work in the office every day. Remote living, working from home? They’re a thing of the past.
My past, actually. Yes, I was a Yahoo for almost eight years. During that time, I not only met deadlines, I beat them. I was respected by my peers and considered a leader by my superiors. I won awards, got promotions, and celebrated raises. And all that while I worked from home at least one day a week — even before I had kids, and along with my male colleagues.
When I first started working at Yahoo! — after years at LA ad agencies surrounded by strip malls and lunch-time errand opportunities — I couldn’t believe that the closest stores were a good 10-15 minute drive away. I was really stuck there. All. Day. Long. They offered a free gym with all kinds of classes, a huge cafeteria (for which Marissa — well, Yahoo! really — now picks up the entire tab), and free gourmet coffee. There was no reason to leave. And for someone like me who values my alone time, that wasn’t a selling point. It was a huge adjustment. (I mean I even showered with my coworkers.)
I quickly learned that 15 minutes (which often became 30) in the coffee shop, a 60-minute lunch-time yoga class (followed by 15-20 minutes of de-stinking/prettying), or a long lunch in URLs cafe with my old high school friends who were now co-workers was my way of maintaining a bit of my own identity in the pool of purple.
And WFH Fridays? They were my day to do all the work I couldn’t do during endless meetings Monday through Thursday. They were my time to catch up and recharge. While being productive and successful.
As I grew my family, my managers fought to keep me on board. They granted me long maternity leaves and eventually flex schedules and opportunities to work from home. While I definitely went through growing pains as a Yahoo, I felt fiercely loyal to the people who supported me, and worked hard to continue to impress them and be a strong contributor to the team.
Now that won’t be an option for people like me. They’ll be forced to be in the office daily — or quit. It’s said this will impact hundreds of Yahoos. And while many of them are likely working moms, the group who’s supposed to be admiring and thanking Marissa for her success, there are certainly others who work remotely as well. According to Kara Swisher of All Things D, the internal memo reads:
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
It’s funny, it seems people like Marissa have this idea that working from home means taking afternoon naps and playing peek-a-boo with the kids. In my case, it was the exact opposite. As a mom, I had the same number of hours of childcare, but a good hour and a half extra to work. I didn’t primp, I didn’t commute, I got stuff done. I was at my desk far more than when I was in the office, and always available with my phone number posted on Yahoo! Messenger so people could reach me as needed.
And, honestly, there were times I missed the office. I’d forget to eat lunch. I didn’t have anyone asking if I wanted to go grab a (free — for me, not the company) coffee and chat. I didn’t get pulled into meetings where I spent an hour wishing I were somewhere else, because I couldn’t contribute to a conversation that shouldn’t have included me. I was a more productive employee most of the time I was home.
The days I was in the office, I would focus on collaboration. When it was necessary, I’d pack my day with meetings and one-on-one time with my team, my partners, and my managers. In the office, I formed friendships, created great working relationships, and also happened to see a lot of redundancy, unmotivated employees, and ways that the company could improve.
Yahoo! knew this. That’s why they hired Marissa. And I don’t envy her, she has a tough job. She needs to make waves and keep Yahoo! on the map. I’m just amazed that she thought this way the way to do it.
I’ve read that people are looking at this as a way to do a layoff without calling it a layoff (and without having to pay severance, of course). If you ask me, that’s a huge mistake. Sure, there may be a number of people working remotely that aren’t engaged. (Which could certainly be dealt with.) But, if my experience is any indication, there are a huge number of hard-working people busting their chops to prove otherwise.
What Yahoo! needs is creative, flexible thinking. Employees who feel invested because their ideas, time, and work are valued. Yahoo! executives need to have people they trust hiring people they trust. Yahoo! needs to understand that it’s not where your butt sits, but where your heart lies that determines whether you bleed purple.
I did for a long time. And I know a lot of other outrageously smart, flexibly scheduled people who did too. The good news? Most of them have gone to other companies who respect these truths. Companies who will be ready to hire the talent that Yahoo! is about to say goodbye to.