I'm on holidays in Bali at the moment, and decided to log in this morning to submit this piece to Women's Agenda - not because I miss being at my Mac, but because I've believed for a long time that flexibility at work is vital to advancing women at work; and it also works best when we can make it work for business. Here's my thoughts as shared with Women's Agenda - and I'd be interested to understand your opinion on it too:
Marissa Mayer, the recently appointed CEO of Yahoo, has banned working from home, citing a need for greater collaboration and cooperation that will come from colleagues working side by side. And I, for one, agree with her.
Having been a knowledge worker most of my career, I’ve seen first hand the synergies teamwork has to offer in crafting and honing ideas. As a management consultant, my job is to come up with great ideas to fix business problems and it’s true that anyone can up with a new idea from anywhere – at home, walking the dog, or even in the office. But taking that idea, and turning into reality, takes something more – and that “more” is what Mayer is looking for in turning the Yahoo ship around.
Yahoo as a company has been as close to a basket case as it gets, for some time now. It’s been on a downward profit performance year on year and has lost important market share in an environment where – with new competitors emerging daily – it will be almost impossible to claw it back. Mayer was it’s third CEO appointed within a year and it’s going to take something special to restore performance and investor confidence.
It’s crunch time now and Mayer is right to go back to basics and ensure all staff are 100 per cent on board with her strategies. It will be easier to achieve this with people sitting side by side: forming, norming, storming and performing together.
And while it’s possible to dream up ideas anywhere, what Mayer knows is that it will be easier to deliver the cutting edge advancements that Yahoo needs with researchers, developers, customer strategists and commercial analysts sitting side by side too.
Richard Branson has spoken out against Mayer’s decision, saying he “has never worked out of an office, and never will” and that Virgin likes “to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they at their desk or in their kitchen.” But the majority of Virgin staff go in to work every day. And Branson knows there are times a leader has to make the tough calls; surely he’s made plenty of those himself over the years.
The truth is, policies like work from home are nice to have and can deliver real value when staff and leaders can make it work. I’ve enjoyed working from home on and off over the years, and have afforded the same opportunity to my team, when it made sense to do so. Who knows? Perhaps Mayer would like to offer the choice Branson speaks of to all of her staff, and perhaps one day she will again. But in the mean time, she’s dealing with an ailing business in an economy in recession.
In times of crisis, nothing beats coming together and my guess is that Yahoo staff will be grateful for anything that will save their jobs and improve the company’s long-term performance. Particularly given the 12.3 million fellow Americans who are unemployed with many competing for the very jobs they hold.
While there are clearly benefits from giving people a choice over where and when they work, there’s a time and a place for making flexibility work.
In Yahoo’s case, with Mayer at the helm of a major business transformation, now is not the time for home to be the place. And – just maybe – bringing people together to build the new Yahoo will produce far greater outcomes than team members working at home, alone.