Philanthropic Ecosystems and Does Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer Have a Point?

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First, I want us all to remember that we can’t step in the same river once.

So it is with our notions of accountability in the sector. One of the most central of our accountability institutions is, of course, GuideStar, founded by NPQ’s board chair, Buzz Schmidt. GuideStar was a qualitative leap forward for this sector, but now Buzz has written a monograph for our sister publication Alliance that seeks to drive the notion of an accountability ecosystem in a changing landscape even a few steps further.  

I urge you to take a look at it and provide feedback, because our experience is that Buzz is both often a few steps ahead of the rest of us and a master at gleaning from the intelligence around him.

Meanwhile, Yahoo!’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, has decided to go against the grain with an edict banning telecommuting, and I think she has an interesting point, though I may not agree with her methods. In a company memo (leaked to the press on Friday), she wrote:

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.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, 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. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

At the very least, I would love to get a conversation going about the reasons given for this step, the ways in which Marissa Mayer’s concerns are or are not being addressed in other workplaces. Please feel free to discuss other implications that you think need to be discussed but we are very interested in your thoughts about the specific issues she raises.


  • Paul Schmitz

    Ms. Mayer has a point and her move to limit working from home arrangements probably has merit. But her communication of the decision was a disaster.

    In some cases, there is talent you want badly, but you cannot have that talent in your headquarters city. Something is lost indeed in terms of relationships, collaboration, and even productivity. The talent in these cases must be worth the tradeoff and we have made that tradeoff with staff in our organization.

    For those in the headquarters city, it is important to have people present and yes, interactions, trust building, focus, etc. are all a capacity. But there are real reasons why people sometimes can’t make it, and she didn’t acknowledge that. I write this from home today where in our headquarters city of Milwaukee there is a snow day announced at 6:30 AM and my kids are home.

    This memo read cold. Yahoo’s memo contained no empathy or nuance which was its problem.

    Perhaps they could have written: “We understand that there are times when caring for loved ones or being present for urgent home repairs require one to work from home. When those events arise, please inform your supervisor. We will not allow for regular work at home arrangements, however, unless there are extenuating circumstances that requires it. We value your work and understand that some flexibility is necessary in order for you to be both healthy and productive. We also understand that our organization thrives on collaboration so that productivity and health must be connected to others. We will continue to work to make Yahoo a great place for our employees to thrive, and believe that clarifying this policy will help us all work better together.”

    More clarity, empathy, and value would not have made headlines. Facebook had a story in the New York Times the same weekend that they are paying bonuses to employees who give birth to or adopt children. Regardless of the merit of her case, she just lost a recruitment war and Facebook won. She needs top talent, and this did not endear her or her organization to her existing talent or to Millennials entering the workforce who want to both work hard and have more balance in their lives.

  • Julie Wood

    This idea is so contrary to the way we work (which does not intrinsically mean it is a bad idea!). We use use the ability to telecommute as a benefit to attract a higher calibre staff than we woudl be able to afford if we were just offering a monetary reward. And, there are many environmental benefits to society of npt having so many people physically commuting to a fixed place of work.

  • Becky

    Is this more an issue with communication, or lack there of, from leadership rather than the need to be physically in the office together for collaboration? It’s been my experience that many in leadership positions have been unsuccessful in their communication efforts, creating a culture of mistrust and competition. I would hate to see workplace flexibility go away when really at the core it’s an issue of leaders giving effective feedback, genuinely engaging their team around a vision and communicating with a solid plan.

  • shelly

    Perhaps the most annoying part of this announcement was the follow-up story that she just had a nursery built next to her office for her newborn. Maybe Yahoo is willing to accommodate all new parents in that way to keep them in the office?

  • Kelly Kleiman

    It’s hard to evaluate Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting without knowing the specific “next steps” about which “your management has already been in touch.” Is Yahoo planning to provide on-site high-quality day care? Subsidies to enable former telecommuters to hire nannies to stand in for them? A golden parachute for those who refuse? Unless Yahoo makes a serious effort to address the genuine structural barriers faced by mothers who work outside the home (or, in this case, in the home on outside projects), then this is just another example of a wealthy woman refusing to see the reality faced by the rest of the world. Mayer’s infant, after all, had her own room in the Yahoo executive suites.

    I don’t have any children and I understand a certain amount of impatience on the part of women who’ve solved this problem (by remaining childless, spending extra money, persuading their husbands to stay home, or whatever) directed at women who haven’t solved this problem and are trying to work and be attentive mothers at the same time. But that sort of I-did-it-why-can’t-she emotion isn’t an appropriate basis for making public policy, or even company policy.

    I can’t wait for the lawsuit that’s surely on its way, arguing (accurately) that revocation of work-at-home policies has such a disparate impact on women that it violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I realize the statute dates from before Marissa Mayer was born, but as far as I know it’s still in effect.

  • Tim McCoy

    A couple of thoughts. If Ms Mayer has done this from a top down
    mandate I would be concerned of how out of touch she is with this
    style of management. Those days of the strong CEO coming up with
    ideas and telling everyone else and demanded or hoping they follow are
    gone if you want to sustain your business. Shared vision and values
    as the best business choice has been shown most effective thru
    research for well over a decade. It never did work, we simply now
    know why. On the other hand, the being in community, being together
    with a shared vision and value set has great effect and impact. I
    would want to know the context.


    Tim McCoy

  • Tal Lytle

    It is delightfully refreshing to see someone in the world of Tech – they that created the work from home culture – to not only admit that there are limitations to off site staffing, but that there is something that technology can’t improve upon – live human interaction. This is not to say that there aren’t advantages in remote staffing from which both employers and workers benefit, but I take Yahoo’s stance as a declaration that they’ve pushed that envelope to its limits, and found it wanting. My work has included both the traditional on-site staff roles, as well as interim and consulting roles via telecommuting. I prefer telecommuting by which I avoid two hours at least every day commuting, get to the gym every morning instead of drive time, and generally enjoy a higher quality and more balanced lifestyle. I understand the benefits to both staff and employers. Even so, working from a home office in rural NY for organizations in Denver, San Antonio, Kansas City, Washington and Baltimore, I’ve become keenly aware that there is decidedly something missing in both what I get as well as what I can give. The joke about water cooler conversations is not just a joke, it’s a real and living conversation that being apart from is cause from some degree of separation, isolation and ignorance. Our lives, work and personal, shape and are shaped by conversations – formal and informal, structured and unstructured. Working remotely, even with regular visits to the headquarters office, can’t substitute for what’s lost by not being in the flow of the day to day, the spontaneous, unexpected and often intrusive interactions by colleagues at every level. The warehouse guy, the mail room clerk, the CEO poking her head in with a question or comment combine to create the fabric of a mutually reinforcing culture. When you’re on site, you hear all the diverse voices…the official, the complaints and gossip, the distractions and the support that can make projects breakthrough. Similarly, my voice and influence can be heard by a wider audience and quietly advocated via unseen channels, and when Im clearly off the rails and barking at the moon, someone will alert me before going too public. I may not be more “productive” in the office environment, but considerably more effective. It’s life in a community, in a unavoidably political environment, in the flow of conversations that create a living culture and team. I find it surprising that I conclude this, as I never want to be required to show up in the office on a daily basis. But, if it has to be one way or the other, I applaud Marissa Mayer’s instinct that intangibles like culture and human connection make an important material difference that has no substitute in the virtual world. There may be a compromise resulting from this dust storm she’s kicked up, but Big Bravo for her taking a stand for the human touch.

  • Ruth Ann Barrett

    Yoohoo Yahoo. Carbon footprint of your workforce is getting bigger with this move, when the objective needs to be to reduce it. Where’s the environmental sustainability in this policy decision? Yahoo in the late 90’s was an unusual company, an innovative one and they think they need to have a full house to get back there. I don’t think so. And then there is the positive track record of decentralized computation and development as in open systems where innovation has flourished. The employees of Yahoo have been jerked around, lived through their unfair share of RIFs, and now this move. Well it certainly caused a stir and those of us who embraced virtual corporations years ago for both environmental and social sustainability reasons, left big high tech corporations years ago and now, due to consolidation, just a few of our former employers are left standing. I would look to IBM for their telecommuting and HR policies, not Yahoo.

  • Joshua Freedman

    Sure, she has a point, but she’s missing it. Working side-by-side isn’t the same as collaboration. As the COO in my org, part of my responsibility is the culture we create, and another is accountability. It’s hard for me to know what our employees are doing when they’re at home, and it’s true that they don’t chat over the water cooler. The question is, what do we really want? If we use a little emotional intelligence, it’s clear that employees want us to commit to them, to trust them. Then, they’re willing to do the same. In a recent study ( we found that senior managers think they’re pretty high in EQ, compared to how employees see it. If we want to actually build a culture of innovation and collaboration, maybe we better start by actually collaborating with our people? Mayer’s approach is typical “old school” management by appearance.