What Tips Does Marissa Mayer Have for HR Managers in the New Year?

HR Policies & Procedures
by Stephen Bruce, PhD, PHR

While she works for a “Silicon Valley” company, the Yahoo CEO’s experiences (some would say exploits) over the past year offer some lessons and some challenges for every HR manager.

The act that gained her the most notoriety was her rule that all employees must report to work at the physical office—no more telecommuting. The move was met with disapproval in many quarters (although Donald Trump reportedly approved). Some called it a step backwards for flexibility in the workplace, especially for women, who often count on flexible schedules and telecommuting to juggle family and work.

And then, famously pregnant when she took the top job, Mayer turned around and increased paid leave for new parents, 8 weeks for the dad and up to 16 weeks for the mom, plus a new baby stipend. (Note, this is not extravagant by Silicon Valley standards.) Mayer also installed a nursery next to her office (at her own expense).

Where Do You Stand on Telecommuting?

The issues of telecommuting and flexibility are at the forefront for many organizations. How much productivity is lost by conducting most business remotely (lack of face-to-face discussions, time spent on technological difficulties, various other inefficiencies)? Or, conversely, how much productivity is gained by working out of the office with fewer interruptions? Or, do some home offices actually have more interruptions (children, pets, installers, chores)?


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And then there’s the broader question of retention and morale. If flextime and telecommuting are what your best employees want, how wise is it to deny the privilege?

Of course, all decisions around flex and telecommuting depend on the job and on the person doing it. Some jobs require little interaction, and some employees desire little interaction. Some employee home offices are comfortable and free from distractions. Some are not. Some employees are easily distracted and some are not.

How Do You Know Anyone’s Working?

All of this is compounded by supervisor suspicion. How do I know my telecommuting employee is really working and not installing a new kitchen floor?

Evaluation of telecommuting employees is often handled by moving toward a ROWE—a results-oriented work environment, where employees are evaluated solely on whether they get their jobs done, with no attention paid to when and where they do it.


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Are You with Marissa or Against Her?

As we welcome the new year, it’s a good time to ponder some of the issues raised above. How will you handle balancing employee desires and business needs? As one manager related, my company in a remote area of New Hampshire didn’t allow telecommuting, but we needed a ceramics engineer. The only one who fit our needs lived in Atlanta and wouldn’t relocate. Guess what, we now allow telecommuting.

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  1. AJ        
    January 2, 2014 3:45 pm

    I think that Marissa is struggling – as all leaders, mothers, companies and families do. Life is a learning experience and I would expect that her style, decisions will change in the future like a lot of ours do. Change is always difficult. We are not static and should not be. I think that telecommuting can be way overrated (and potentially abused). For me, it generally will not work – I am more focused in the office. However, I do believe that organizations should be flexible enough to recognize that, for some, a few (like my husband), it works just fine. He actually does work at home, well and productively. I suspect not many can, however. There is also something big about being together and sharing ideas. I don’t fault Marissa at all. She is trying to make her organization function best – better than it probably was. Kudos for taking action aimed at improvement.

  2. Terry Wheaton        
    January 2, 2014 3:59 pm

    There are, of course, no right answers to the questions raised in this article. Some companies have a well established ROWE and can easily adapt to a remote work environment. Most, I would guess, do not. Managing a remote workforce with no ROWE is more than difficult and excessive cost inducing. With respect to maternity/paternity leaves and on-site nurseries, with an aging workforce, maintaining parity between younger and older workers with respect to benefits is also difficult. Ah yes, as a long retired HR professional, I don’t miss these challenges!

  3. Fred Eck        
    January 2, 2014 4:07 pm

    On one hand I agree with Marissa, face to face interaction is critical in working through problems and team building. From my perspective the lack of face to face or even “talk to talk” on a phone has diminished in society, so even families take on the “texting” or email approach to relationships. Call me old fashioned, but I think we need to move back to more “personal” face to face interactions.

    The other side of the coin is that with working moms and dads who are not able to be involved with their families at the level they should be, some flex-time or reasonableness in a lot of people’s 50-60 plus hours at the office should be available to people.

    Somewhere in the middle is the answer. Let’s sit down and talk about it “face to face”.

  4. Roxane Patterson        
    January 2, 2014 4:08 pm

    It is easy to choose either side of the debate. I think it is a decision that requires evaluation on a case by case basis. Trust is a valuable component of a healthy team. If you can’t trust your employees why did you hire them? If the employee is producing it is a win-win.

  5. Joan Burkholder        http://cristinstrument.com
    January 2, 2014 4:30 pm

    Some of our staff must work at the shop. While it is possible for office staff to work from home I don’t recommend it on a regular basis. Just as operations from one building to another and/or one floor of a building to another, working from home does present some barriers. Not all information can be communicated on line or via phone as well as a verbal and physical communication. I do permit some of our office staff to work from home for short periods in an emergency. I’ve done it myself, so I know where the problems are.

  6. Peter Eastman        http://www.mmc.org
    January 2, 2014 7:28 pm

    Most organizations are made up of jobs that are a mix – jobs that can be done at home, jobs that can’t, and jobs that sometimes can. Most healthcare and service sector jobs can’t ‘phone it in’.

    Further, ROWE can only work if supervisors are willing to put in realtime time and effort to audit, guide, and correct workload drift, and who will actively involve the remote worker in the daily life of the organization.

    As a final note, I think we underestimate how much cultural behavoir and workflow knowledge is passed ‘in passing’ – overheard over the cubicle wall.

  7. Kate        http://www.goodwintucker.com
    January 2, 2014 11:00 pm

    I am not in favor of M. Mayer’s stance on telecommuting. Who knows what she’s run into with the company employees to resort to such measures, but having recently started doing some telecommuting myself(payroll at home), I find that I actually put in more hours working at home than in the office AND am more productive. Way fewer distractions and disturbances with a short and critical turnaround time – - I can always be reached by email, phone or VM. Don’t get me wrong, I, too, value the face-to-face encounters, but some people’s timing isn’t always opportune.
    I think it’s grand that she was able to install a nursery next to her penthouse office (at her expense) so that she can work all hours of the day and night, but at her salary why not? How many people can really afford to do that?

  8. Jim Bilbao        http://www.TurnoverIntelligence.com
    January 3, 2014 1:18 am

    It’s easy to relate to the employee perspective, less easy to comment on the CEO perspective on flex work from the perspectives of mission, revenue, costs, competition, risk, profitability, etc. The best answers are situationally appropriate. The calculus balances mission, performance, competition, work site, manager, role, employee, employee site, etc. Marissa’s answer is situational and serves the needs of the business as she and management see it now. The situation is changing. She and her team will make different decisions when the situation warrants.