Yahoo CEO believes collaboration is about people, not technology


Share on LinkedIn

New Yahoo! boss Marissa Mayer is taking some heat for a new policy requiring employees to (gasp) come into a real office and work with real people.

Here’s an excerpt from a leaked internal memo:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

The move is controversial especially in tech circles because the hot thing is using technology to collaborate. Enterprise social networks (Yammer, Chatter, etc.), video conferencing (GoToWebinar, WebEx, etc.) and knowledge sharing applications are now ubiquitous in corporations big and small.

The simple truth is that these tools are still a poor substitute for human interaction. And in software development, ad hoc communications still matter.

I have a relative who worked for a company that was acquired by Google. After acquisition, work-at-home arrangements were terminated, and smaller offices consolidated. Why? To foster collaboration. And make no mistake about it, Google uses technology intensively, including collaborative tools. But not as a substitute for valuable human interactions.

So why is Yahoo! doing the same? Simple, that’s where Marissa Mayer grew up, before taking the CEO job at Yahoo!

I know this change won’t work for everyone at Yahoo!, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for every company. But I congratulate Mayer for shaking things up to get people out of their ruts. That’s what real leaders do.


  1. My paradigm for the extraordinary results that collaboration and innovation can yield is W. L. Gore, Inc.. Founder Bill Gore, almost singlehandedly, built on the Douglas McGregor thesis of leveraging basic humanity, and human interaction, to create a ‘lattice’ management style when he left duPont to form his own company in the late 1950’s. Gore’s team-based approach to commitment and achievement has been well-documented, and many high-tech companies have sought to emulate both the culture and its results. Having seen the lattice model function first-hand, and studied it over the years, I can attest to its uniqueness and effectiveness. Management scientist Gary Hamel has chronicled Gore’s approach and achievements pretty well:

    Though some of the Yahoo! employees may well consider Marissa Mayer’s new requirement a crimping of their flextime and independence, the edict is both a CEO’s prerogative and a recognition that stellar. innovative results. and a strong culture, require collaboration and teamwork. Maybe she took a chapter from W. L. Gore’s management book.

  2. Judging by the blowback from bloggers — who no doubt are working at home and can’t imagine working at an office — you would think that Yahoo CEO Mayer was Attila the Hun.

    A more balanced view comes in a Fast Company article, The Real Reasons No One At Yahoo Will Be Working From Home.

    Though prompting public outcry, the move shows Mayer’s subtle torquing of Yahoo’s structure: a source tells Business Insider that the company has remote workers across divisions who never came in and “weren’t productive,” including people that “hid” to the extent that no one knew they were still working there. As well, since some remote workers won’t want to come into the office, they’ll quit–a bonus for a company that wants to slim down, a talent move parellel to Mayer’s call to condense 60 apps to 12.

    I agree, except for the “subtle” part. This is about as subtle as a baseball bat. Meyer probably realized this move would do two things:
    1. stir up lots of commentary = free publicity
    2. signal employees that she’s serious about change

    As for slimming down, I hope that’s not true, because it would mean Yahoo management doesn’t have the guts to deal with non-performance. Bringing people in to an office won’t change that.

    Prediction: 5 years from now, when/if Yahoo is back on track, workers will be allowed to work at home again. But this time, it won’t be to hide or avoid contributing.

  3. Jacob Morgan, an advocate for collaborative technology, nevertheless argues that a collaborative organization is required before using technology.

    I think what Yahoo! is really trying to do here is just regroup and get everyone back on the same page in order to build a successful framework and approach for collaboration. It seems that this was never done to begin with which is a problem. If the foundation was never set in place for building a collaborative organization then Yahoo! now needs to stake one step back in order to take two steps forward later.

  4. Best Buy just ended its work-from-home program, part of a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) launched with great fanfare in 2005.

    According to the SF Chronicle article:

    The goal: to improve leadership, collaboration and efficiency by having people together in the office. Sure, there will be instances when people will work remotely, but it’s a complete reversal from the enthusiasm the company expressed for Rowe in a 2006 Businessweek cover story.

    The CEO Hubert Joly says Rowe is “fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint” as it assumed the only acceptable way to lead is by delegating.

  5. According to John Perrin, CEO at Tactical Sales Training UK, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is “without doubt one of the biggest ambassadors of creating a workplace that encourages people to connect and communicate both building relations within the walls of the company but also friendships outside the company too.”

    Some argue that working at home is more productive due to less distractions. Others that it a perk because employees can avoid commute hassles.

    That may be, but:

    “Tony has repeatedly said and firmly believes that in order to build a lasting culture there is no room for remote workers, face to face and constant interactions are the only way a company can grow.”

    I visited Zappos and can attest to the positive vibe and high level of engagement. Zappos was ranked #31 on Fortune’s 2013 100 Best Companies to Work For.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here