The Tale of Two Marissa’s: Should Katy Stay or Go Now?


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It’s not looking sunny in Sunnyvale

telecommuting at Yahoo

CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines this week when she laid down the law at Yahoo! No more telecommuting. By June all employees at Yahoo will need to work out of the office.

This stance is in sharp contrast to the precedent she upheld at Google. Specifically the reasoning behind Green Goldfish #343 – the “Katy Rule.” According to an article in Business Insider:

Marissa Mayer believes women are especially susceptible to burning out because they are faced with more demands in the home. “What causes burnout, Mayer believes, is not working too hard,” Rosin writes. “People, she believes, ‘can work arbitrarily hard for an arbitrary amount of time,’ but they will become resentful if work makes them miss things that are really important to them.” She gave an anecdote for how she kept one Google executive, whom she calls “Katy,” from quitting. Katy loved her job and she loved her team and she didn’t mind staying late to help out. What was bothering Katy was something entirely different. Often, Katy confessed, she showed up late at her children’s events because a meeting went overly long, for no important reason other than meetings tend to go long. And she hated having her children watch her walk in late. For Mayer, this was a no-brainer. She instituted a Katy-tailored rule. If Katy had told her earlier that she had to leave at four to get to a soccer game, then Mayer would make sure Katy could leave at four. Even if there was only five minutes left to a meeting, even if Google cofounder Sergey Brin himself was mid sentence and expecting an answer from Katy, Mayer would say “Katy’s gotta go” and Katy would walk out the door and answer the questions later by e-mail after the kids were in bed.” The key to sustaining loyalty in employees is making sure they get to do the things that are most important to them outside of work, Mayer told Rosin. (Source: Business Insider)

Folks like Cisco and accenture have 80 to 90% of their staff telecommuting at least on a part time basis. And as a general rule, workplaces are leaning towards granting greater flexibility to employees. This is based on the following three assumptions or reasons:

  1. The technology is available and the type of work being done is conducive for telecommuting.
  2. It ultimately saves both parties in the long run. Companies save money on office space and employees save money/hassle of commuting.
  3. Productivity improves and satisfaction increases.

When the reason stops, therefore should stop the RULE

I can only imagine that #3 is out of whack at Yahoo. According to the leaked memo, the new policy calls for workers “physically being together.” Sometimes you need to take one step backward to take two steps forward. Here is a telling quote from the internal memo:

We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices… Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

I applaud Marissa for shaking things up with this gutsy move. She was brought in to breathe new life into a stagnant culture. iPhone and free lunches are nice, but its time to get everyone off their remote island and back onto the boat. They is no gray in this decision, meaning no wiggle room or exceptions to the “no telecommuting” rule. It will be an interesting all-hands-on-deck summer at Yahoo! Will it be smooth sailing or feel more like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic? Your take?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something thrown in for good measure) – Here is Marissa talking at Stanford (her alma mater) back in 2006. She talks about Google and the nine lessons for driving innovation at the Googleplex:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


  1. Yahoo is in trouble, and if Mayer doesn’t fix it she will be gone just like her predecessors.

    I like the move she is making because it’s a tangible signal that this time things really ARE going to change. I think that’s more important than where people are working.

    This is not to say that work at home can’t work for many or even most companies. But I find it interesting that Apple and Google are great at developing tools to help people work anywhere, anytime, but actually insist that employees come to work. And what do you know, they lead their industries and are known as great places to work.

    Of course, the collateral damage on this change will be people who literally can’t come in to an office, and have to find other jobs. If they are productive employees, I predict a short job hunt, because techies are in high demand.

    I don’t agree that the Yahoo policy is “in sharp contrast” to Google. Accommodating a worker who needs to leave the office for personal matters is normal management stuff. Katy’s normal work location is the office, not home. I’m sure that Yahoo will make similar accommodations, but perhaps not until the business is in a stronger position.

  2. Good points Bob. I believe the contrast is with regard to a flexibility mindset. Would Katy be allowed to go in the Yahoo scenario? I’m not so sure. Here is a quote from the leaked memo:
    “For the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.”


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