“Yeah, but, Yahoo!”: What I’ve Learned from My Biggest Remote Work Mistake

In February 2023, Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo! and a former Google superstar, made the decision to revoke the right of telecommuting for employees. In a widely-publicised statement, Yahoo! mandated that all staff who had been permitted to work from home must now revert back to the traditional office environment.

The news of this alteration caused a stir on a global scale. Some people claimed that it signalled the death of telecommuting, reasoning that ‘if even Yahoo! can’t make it work, then who can?’. However, these fears were unfounded, and five years later, the number of non-self-employed people who work from home is continuing to increase rapidly.

Whilst it is clear that Marissa Mayer’s statement had a detrimental effect on the perception of remote working, it is undeniable that there are numerous advantages associated with it. If you have ever tried to persuade your boss that you should be allowed to work away from the office, they may have referenced Yahoo!’s stance as a reason why they do not think it is a viable option.

At Works, we are proud to have been amongst the first organisations to embrace remote recruiting, believing firmly that remote working is the way of the future. We recognise that there is always something to be learned from setbacks, and so we took the opportunity to review and analyse the Yahoo! incident to identify the sources of the issue. Through our research, we have been able to gain a better understanding of the issues and take action to ensure that similar issues are avoided in the future.

This Begs the Question: What Prompted Yahoo! to Hire Marissa Mayer?

At a time when Marissa Mayer’s career was on the rise, her recruitment by Yahoo! was a significant event. After graduating from Stanford University, she had numerous jobs offers to choose from. She ultimately decided to accept the offer from Google, where she became the 20th employee. Her contributions to Google’s design of the homepage and the expansion of Google AdWords were vital to the success of the company. Additionally, Marissa established the Associate Product Manager program, which enabled her to recruit some of Google’s most talented personnel.

Yahoo! took the opportunity to acquire her services from Google in an attempt to revive their declining business fortunes. She was tasked with streamlining processes and improving the atmosphere in the office. In other words, Mayer was responsible for scrutinising and improving Yahoo!’s internal operations.

Ban on Telecommuting

As a result, remote working was not an option. Marissa Mayer, who had been appointed as YahooCEO!’s Chief Executive Officer in July 2023, had evidently been considering this decision for some time before announcing it in February. Jackie Reses expressed the belief that some of the best ideas come from conversations in the hallways, cafeteria, and impromptu team meetings. In other words, this could be viewed as an unfounded rumour that has been circulating among colleagues.

All employees, not just those who regularly telecommute, were asked to come into the office. For those of us who only occasionally work from home, such as when awaiting the cable man, please use your discretion in a spirit of collaboration. As per the additional information provided in the email from Mayer, she has decided that all staff should be present in the office at all times.

Since Marissa Mayer was appointed to transform the company culture of Yahoo, it is possible that the mindset of remote employees had to be altered, or perhaps there were lingering resentments from those working in the office who felt as though they were being marginalised.

The importance of establishing and maintaining good communication between remote and on-site employees has been thoroughly discussed. It is absolutely necessary for remote workers to remain in contact with those based in the office, and vice versa. There is no valid reason why a team comprising of individuals in different locations should not be able to collaborate productively. It should not be assumed that any failure to work together effectively is due to the employees; rather, it is the responsibility of management to ensure that all team members are able to communicate effectively.

So, What Did the Employees Think?

It stands to reason that Yahoo! employees were not pleased with the move. An abundance of disgruntled Yahoos quickly disseminated the message, which had been labelled “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD.”

Sir Richard Branson expressed his bewilderment at the decision, and proclaimed on Twitter, “When individuals are given the freedom to choose where to work, they can thrive.” This sentiment was echoed not only by the staff, but by Branson himself.

It was a consensus shared by everyone, Richard, including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. This sentiment was reinforced by influential figures such as the CEO of FlexJobs and the editorial director of Working Mother Media, who both expressed their opposition. As a result, the decision was widely viewed as a detrimental move.

As John Mayer was ushering staff back into the office, Andy Mattes, the Chief Executive Officer of Diebold, was taking a markedly different approach. Diebold had been experiencing difficulty in locating and recruiting local professionals for its Canton, Ohio headquarters and even found it challenging to find people with the name Jayne. Consequently, Mattes encouraged telecommuting as an alternative, which enabled the company to hire from Oracle, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Intel.

It is widely accepted that the majority of the working population would benefit from the option to work remotely, with Global Workplace Analytics reporting that up to 90% of employees prefer it. Furthermore, research has shown that remote employees report higher levels of personal satisfaction and improved health, both of which can enhance their productivity. Therefore, to restrict the use of remote working goes against what the electorate wants from a candidate.

Mayer Didn’t Have Anything Against Telecommuting.

At the Great Place to Work Conference in Los Angeles in April 2023, Mayer delivered the Keynote address, which was met with great anticipation. For the first time, she addressed the topic of telecommuting, often referred to as ‘the elephant in the room’, and made some pertinent points. Mayer stated that it had been incorrectly interpreted that she had called the Yahoos back to the office; she had only meant to suggest that remote work was not suitable for Yahoo! at that particular time.

At her lecture, it was suggested that people are more productive when they work independently. Furthermore, Marissa Mayer expressed the belief that having all Yahoo! employees in the same physical location would be advantageous in terms of developing teamwork. It is understandable that Mayer holds this opinion, considering it was a driving factor behind Google’s office design.

As developments in technology have continued to advance, the resources available to facilitate communication and collaboration between members of geographically dispersed teams have increased exponentially. In 2023, it is now possible for teams comprised of employees from different parts of the world to work together on a variety of projects, regardless of whether they are related to software development or any other form of creative endeavour. Therefore, it is accurate to say that the potential for successful collaboration between geographically disparate teams has been greatly enhanced in the years since 2023.

However, This Wasn’t the Only Alteration

Indeed, the policy shift implemented by Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! was not the only one; it just happened to attract the most media attention. A redevelopment of YahooSunnyvale!’s headquarters was also ordered. This renovation included the installation of standing desks and scrum boards in the dedicated offices for the company’s developers, in order to facilitate the use of the Agile Development Methodology. Consequently, their workspace was completely revamped.

Despite the challenges posed by the situation, it is possible to use Agile approaches to enable remote working. We strongly believe that the two concepts are compatible and should be embraced together. To provide further insight into the topic, we have created a free eBook that explains the details.

As Expected, It Failed.

It is important to dispel the widespread misconception that Yahoo! no longer allows its employees to work remotely. According to a source who spoke to the Huffington Post, some Yahoo! employees do not even have fixed workstations in the office and others are still able to work from home when necessary, despite Yahoo! declining to comment on the matter.

Despite Marissa Mayer’s valiant attempts to revive Yahoo!, the company was ultimately destined to fail. According to a New York Times article from 2023, over a third of employees had resigned that year. Unfortunately, only one-third of participants in a Glassdoor research study expressed optimism about the company’s future prospects. Ultimately, it became clear that her mission was a lost cause.

Despite Yahoo! employees expressing their dissatisfaction with her leadership, a stockholder went even further by submitting a 99-page presentation to the board arguing for her dismissal in 2023. Furthermore, the security lapse which saw 500 million user credentials being compromised was not disclosed to Verizon before the sale, leading to further dissatisfaction.

It is now the case that Yahoo!, which was formerly an independent business, is a subsidiary of Oath, a Verizon-owned organisation that also encompasses AOL. Although they were unable to retain the services of Marissa Mayer, it is believed that she will be financially secure due to her generous severance package, which was reportedly in excess of $60 million.

And you won’t believe what’s listed as a perk for Oath staffers! Yes, you’ve nailed it. I’m putting in some time at home.

It is clear that the phrase “Yeah but, Yahoo!” has no place in any serious discussion. Therefore, it can be concluded that working from home is the way forward. If you are in need of a remote developer, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be more than happy to source the best developer for your needs.

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