Yahoo! CEO goes against the grain

Yahoo! chief executive officer Marissa Mayer, a Wausau native, sparked a national conversation recently by announcing to her employees that the company will no longer allow telecommuting.

“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,” stated the memo addressed to “Yahoos” from company human resources director Jackie Reses.

The new Yahoo! policy defies a national trend. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 13.4 million people worked from home at least part-time during a typical week in 2010, and the number of telecommuters in computer, science and engineering fields increased by 69 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Human resource and employment experts in the Milwaukee area are watching Yahoo! from afar with some rather skeptical eyes.

Aleta Norris, co-founding partner of Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader, said, “Two of the most consistent themes today are ‘work is something I do, not somewhere I go,’ and work-life integration is what people desire.”

Norris, who writes a column about the Generation Y workforce for BizTimes, added, “Don’t tell me where and when to do my work; just tell me what you need, and I’ll get it done. The note we would add is that A Players perform best when allowed to work to their preferences.”

Another BizTimes columnist and expert, Daniel Schroeder, president of Organization Development Consultants Inc. in Brookfield, said Mayer’s new policy is “shortsighted.”

Schroeder added, “Today’s employees are looking for flexibility to lead ‘whole lives.’ People have an ever expanding list of commitments to meet. Does the employer help or hinder that challenge? Indeed, there is mounting evidence that ’employer of choice’ companies are doing just that. They are looking for ways to attract and retain employees by offering job sharing, flexible work shifts, telecommuting, etc. While Ms. Mayer’s decision might tighten up the reins on people who are abusing a telecommuting policy, this is a short-term fix that will have, in my opinion, longer-term consequences that outweigh the early returns.”

Melanie Holmes, vice president of World of Work Solutions at ManpowerGroup, the Milwaukee-based staffing company, acknowledged that Mayer must have made the decision that she believed is best for her company at this time.

However, Holmes added, “Offering flexible work in today’s world is a tremendous benefit that companies are using as a recruitment and retention tool.”

Although work/life flexibility is important to the younger generation, it has filtered its way up the workforce chain to become an expectation for baby boomers, as well, Holmes said.

“The basis for this is trust. If the company does not trust the employee to be productive at home, then it doesn’t work. Employees need to make sure we’re not misusing that trust,” Holmes said.

When Mayer made her announcement, Jeff Joerres, chief executive officer of ManpowerGroup, Tweeted, “Collaborative virtual work will only grow as cos seek innovative ways to tap in to the best talent around the world.”

However, Rose Spano Iannelli, managing partner at Spano Pratt Executive Search in Milwaukee, is giving Mayer the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

“‘Being present’ has its advantageous; especially during a change in leadership – as in the case of Yahoo! Mayer is a turnaround CEO in an organization that has seen diminishing shareholder value these past five years. She is known to make decisions based on data. One could make the assumption she is evaluating the talent base; separating those high performers from the slackers using data, as well as determining who will follow her into the fire.” Pratt said.

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