Why I Agree with Marissa Mayer’s Ban on Yahoo Working From Home: It’s Not for Everyone

By February 28, 2013Communications

The internet’s been blowing up with reactions to Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s ban on Yahoo employees working from home.  Employees allowed the freedom and autonomy of Marijean Jaggersworking from a home office on either a full- or part-time basis have been outraged by the decision and the implication that home-based employees are less than productive.

I get it, though. And I’m not sure, were I in Mayer’s shoes, that I would make a different decision. I’m informed by experience. I worked from home full-time for five years. I know firsthand how difficult it can be. I was organized, productive, methodical and overall, a successful at-home employee, but it is very easy to see how that success is the exception rather than the rule, and how the challenges often outweighed the benefits.

Most people benefit from team interaction. In-person brainstorming and team building is far preferable and effective than the kind that can be achieved via conference call or Skype. As a consultant, I’ve even found that the time I spend on-site with clients, observing, learning and breathing the same air provides me with far more insight about the inner workings, challenges and wins my clients experience.  That information gives me far richer fodder for developing the stories of that business, and the individuals who represent it.

For the at-home employee, particularly those trying to balance childcare or other home-based responsibilities in the mix, challenges abound. If there’s a home maintenance visitor expected (plumber, electrician, painter, etc.) you’re on tap to great, manage and pay them. If you have school-aged children, snow days can be your personal hell, or any unexpected school holiday in which your kids are present can sideline an otherwise productive day. If your home office isn’t an entirely separate space, with a door that closes and contents respected by other residents of the home, you’re setting yourself up for failure, too. People often envision working at home as an opportunity to lie around in one’s pajamas all day long, but from personal experience, I knew from the start that getting dressed to shoes and makeup each morning made me feel as if I was GOING TO WORK, even if that just meant descending two flights of stairs to my home office, psychologically programmed me to NOT feel as if I were taking a sick day.

So, I get it. Most people really CAN’T successfully pull off a full-time work from home arrangement. That’s not to say that allowing employees to work at home during special circumstances (i.e., snow days, sick kids, plumber visits and the like) isn’t advised. I would ALWAYS be for that — employees need that kind of flexibility to manage their lives, and in most cases, will pay it back in spades during long work days or weekend work.

My last thought on this topic is this: you people are weird. I created a video years ago (see how short my hair is!) to prove that I actually wear lipstick in my home office and to date, the video is the most popular I’ve ever created. Working from home, alone sometimes makes you do strange things.  Here’s the video, in case you’re one of the few who hasn’t already seen it.




  • lewisnelson says:

    This is not the same as working from home, but we have a lot of telework situations in my office that lead to the types of problems Mayer is trying to fix — lack of innovation, lack of collaboration, and less ability for leaders to motivate. In my work environment, we do a lot of video teleconferencing and have instant messaging and phone calls, but nothing trumps being face to face in the same room. Video teleconferencing is hardly collaborative with people less likely to talk!

  • Marijean says:

    @lewisnelson I think, for some, we’re fostering the belief that we can effectively multitask (we can’t) and be excellent employees at the same time we’re being excellent parents. Both employers and children get shortchanged in that arrangement — you’re either at work, or at home — that’s really better for everyone.

  • Alice says:

    While I doubt that I would have done what MM did, and I am certain I’d have done it differently, what I find most fascinating is that the conversations I have encountered about it all seem to make the same assumption: that working at home is a monolithic and homogenous experience, when it simply is not. In this case, you have described one paradigm, and done a good job of it! Yes, for you, this probably was/is a less good way to work. I, on the other hand, have had jobs where it was the best way to work. So, here some thoughts from that perspective.
    Much of my work has involved creative work, meaning thoughtful, complex writing or technical analysis. I do not multi-task well in any setting but doing house chores. I need large blocks of unbroken time to be effective. I am distractible, particularly by sound. A phone call or social drive-by “hello” breaks my concentration and it can take half an hour to get back to where I was.
    The best value per employer dollar happens when I have i person meetings to set up a project and the. I go away, hermit up at home or in a library, and do my work. I have no problem turning off ringers and usually choose to live in places where houses are spaced such that I can’t see or hear my neighbors.
    When forced to do this kind of work in an office, it takes me longer and the quality suffers. Even years later, I can look through it and map my attention patterns.
    Give me my Apple Powerbook Pro, WriteRoom, peaceful, human-free surroundings, breaks to take short, brisk walks, and my iPod and I will produce top notch stuff.
    Different strokes. If a company wants the best from its employees, it might be worth taking the work at home thing on a case-by-case basis.

  • “People who need people…are the luckiest people….la la la.”   For consultants, working away from the company that they’re consulting for can have 50 shades of failure as well.  Recently, I became a corporate partner with a company, Crutchfield Corp.  They turned over their wellness program to me completely.  They charged me with increasing the outreach and impact of their wellness efforts, and when they offered me an empty office once a week, I jumped on it (into it).  I already rent at a cottage with 4 other self-employed writers/business people because I experienced first hand how lonely and underdressed and prone to turning into Dr. Oz work at home can be.  I STILL jumped at the chance to be onsite all day once a week.  I knew it would be easier for me to do an excellent job for them and by simply running into people in the halls, having an open door policy for impromptu wellness planning, sitting in on HR meetings, and becoming the opposite of remote (at least once a week) I would accomplish so much more and create stronger relationships and buzz more buzz about upcoming programming than even the most stunning of emails can attempt.  Also, monitoring my actual time spent on the job for purposes of accurate billing is easier this way, and certainly more transparent for both parties.  Also (2), I can post little Denise-isms like “Sugar makes you a dingbat.” on “my” door, and evoke so many confessions.  They let me paint the office, and decorate it.  They had IT deliver a computer so that I could video conference with their employees at all their locations.  Being self-employed has many benefits and freedoms, but talking UVA basketball around the water cooler is a treat (and productivity boost) for this consultant.

  • tuning into Dr. Oz…not turning into Dr. Oz.