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Matt Yglesies had a good point about this . He suggested that Mayer be actually be trying to thin the workforce by stealth. Don't announce layoffs because of the effect that it may have on morale instead just give some folks a nudge to seek employment elsewhere. Second why don't you take account for self selection. The collegial people who like to mingle and would produce the positive externality actually go to work or at least drop by the office just to say hello to their colleagues. The socially inept or highly introverted stay home and spare us the negative externality of their dour presence.

Vladimir - I'm not convinced about the collegial come in/dour stay out theory. One can make a completely different argument: Collegial people will tend to have friends and people to talk to wherever they go - in the park, at the local coffee shop, or perhaps in Montreal/Toronto/California/India/where ever they happen to be hanging out at the moment. Dour people, on the other hand, come in to work because it's the only place where they can find social interaction.

Though, yes, when I talk about the positive externality created by creative, sensible and helpful co-workers, implicit in that is the negative externality created by co-workers who lack such positive attributes!

I agree with you about the nudging people out theory. One method sometimes used by devious university administrators to induce people to retire is to create teaching schedules that force people to spend large amounts of time in the office, e.g. for someone teaching 6 hours a week, schedule the hours in one hour blocks at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mon/Wed/Fri.

I have generally been supportive of Mayer's strategy at Yahoo! in this context, even without realizing that more men than women telecommute. Telecommuters definitely make it harder to do things like build consensus and work best (in my experience) in a purely service role but trying to coordinate strategy is brutal.

They can also be hard to manage as you can't necessarily see all of the pieces of

As a (now recovering) software engineer with 12 years experience, I can tell you there were never any female underlings to whom I could delegate anything. Software engineers (and anyone who actually makes anything, really) are very, very low down the corporate food chain. They are the ones being delegated too.

Given the evidence on what makes for productive software developers (hint: it's not being at the office subject to constant interruptions), I doubt the Yahoo! CEOs moves were aimed at software engineers, whom I would guess now make-up a relatively small percent of Yahoo!'s overall staff.

Yahoo!, like Google, isn't isn't really a tech company. They sell other stuff. The tech is just a means to an end.

Patrick, "there were never any female underlings..."

I wondered if someone was going to call me on my lack of knowledge of how tech companies (or companies like Yahoo) actually work!

Here's a scenario from my world. Fourth year student wants advice on grad school from a former professor. Comes to the department looking to see if any of his or her current or former professors (or any potential future grad school profs) are around. No one is, because everyone works at home. So instead of asking one of the male professors (econ departments in Canada are still around 70% male in terms of full-time tenure or tenure-track faculty) the student goes and asks the female undergrad or grad administrator.

In this example, telecommuting increases professors' measured productivity, because productivity is measured in academic papers not student advising. But although the undergrad and grad administrators are excellent at advising students on our university's programs, calendar rules and regulations, etc., there are certain questions they can't answer. They don't have much knowledge of other programs, much knowledge of econ, and don't know how the reputation of various departments across the country compare.

There must be a situation comparable to that the Yahoo world?

I don't know about YHOO in general. They are an advertising company and thus outside my experience. My guess is that they have lots of sales and marketing staff and lots of IT staff to keep their servers running and relatively few software engineers (with no female PA's!), but I definitely could be wrong.

"Don't announce layoffs because of the effect that it may have on morale instead just give some folks a nudge to seek employment elsewhere"

But that's only a good strategy if you think that the telecommuters are, at best, no more productive than the in-office workers. If tele-commuting is a perk that attracts/retains more productive workers (which some of her critics have suggested), that it would be a self-defeating one.

At least in my pratice, there's no substitute for face to face contact. Seemingly innocuous social interactions can product significant productivity benefits. A not uncommon discussion over coffee might go like this:

A: So, whaddaya got on the go?
B: Oh, those goofs at CRA are proposing to assess our client for branch profits tax on such and such a basis
A: Really? I had a file like that last year. We kicked them in the teeth and they backed down without a fight. Let me send you my file.
A: Really? I think I read a case dealing with something like that recently, let me send it to you.
A: Hmm, tricky issue. I think Johnson did a memo on that a couple of years ago. Check the system.

Without the seemingly casual (indeed, seemingly inefficient) social interaction of grabbing a cup of coffee together, B might spend hours (at his client's expense) trying to get started in dealing with his client's problem.

And while this is a seemingly convenient situation, it's a common one, and A's answers above are all answers that I've given in those sorts of situations. So I have no troubling believing Ms. Meyer on this point (of course, I'm also sinfully lazy when I work at home - so I don't if I can avoid it - so I'd be inclined to back her policy on that basis alone).

The question I have for Ms. Meyer (and her preprocessors could have been asked the same question) is what problem is she trying to solve? If she believes that YHOOs problem is a brilliant business plan poorly executed, then I suppose she has a point. FWIW, I'm not so sure that's really the problem YHOO's facing.

Personally, I think this is just territorial pissing. It's easy for execs to look serious by wagging a finger at the rank and file. Complaints about the feckless Takers makes a melodious sound in the rarefied air of the echo chamber of the C-suite.

I get asked a lot of questions at work, often saving people many hours of banging their head against the wall on a problem. Though I would like to work at home to some extent to get away from the distraction (sometimes I just sit in the cafeteria or a meeting room where no one can find me so I can get things done), I acknowledge that there are positive externalities to me sitting at my desk getting interrupted.


Have you considered the *negative externalities* of working in an office.

Most of us work in large open plan spaces, in my case cross departmental so there is little or no cross fertilization.

I spend a huge part of my day being distracted by weird phone ring tones, conversations about personal issues, loud phonecalls about personal issues etc.

We don't now have meeting rooms to withdraw to-- those are oversubscribed at the best of times.

The nature of the modern office is open plan, noisy, distracting, not private.

That's how 80%+ of us work in a modern office. Cubicle droids.

How can it be productive to force us to commute in London's overcrowded public transport to do that.

I agree with valuethinker. I had an office to myself once. Briefly. But then the firm went BK (hopefully there was no correlation :). Otherwise I've always been shoved into a large open space stuffed with cubicles. There were always at least 4 to as many as 8 people within a few meters.

How'd you like to face that 8hrs a day?

valuethinker - as someone who works from home a lot of the time, and works in an environment where a lot of people work from home, I really see both sides of this issue. That G&M article was written from home, and there's no way I could have put it together in time that they requested it if I'd been at the office. At the same time, the privileges granted academics in terms of when and where to work are seriously abused. It's hard to know what to do when you have a dysfunctional office where no one comes in, no one talks to anyone, and there's no collaboration or innovation.

Patrick - the horror!

There is telecommuting and telecommuting. My own experience was quite positive. Actually, we had no choice, as everybody was spread out across the US. One important reason that it worked well was that we took care with our channels of communication. There were only seven in our group, so our particular structure might not scale. Everybody had dedicated one on one contact, aside from email. I thought of these as meeting rooms for two. In theory we could invite others in, but that never happened, IMX. If you are talking about 100 people, that structure would be unwieldy, however. When I became the leader, I instituted a weekly chat meeting for everyone. As I had expected, that boosted morale. :) We had an agenda, but always stayed connected for at least an hour afterwards.

FWIW, my own feeling, if people could do a regular commute, would be for them to come in at least once a week for FTF time. A lot of meetings are time-wasters, and having non-real time meetings online -- something like commenting on blogs, actually --, worked well, IMX.

I resent the implication that people who are more outgoing in nature are more cooperative or that being introvert is a negative externaltity. Rather the opposit quite often. My brain would need lots of ritalin to work in an environment like valuethinker described. Suppose that is the implicit solution here make those who dont function according to the cultural desired normal function with (otherwise unecessary) medication or push them out.

hix - "being introvert is a negative externaltity"

One person said this something along these lines in the comments but I certainly do not agree that introversion is a negative externality in the workplace.

The big news here is that after almost five months at Yahoo, Marissa has been unable to come up with any new products or strategy for the firm to survive.

Instead of new product announcements, we hear that ending telecommuting is what will move yahoo forward.

The story here is "the CEO of a sinking ship is trying to adjust chairs" not "should the Titanic's chairs be on the left side of the ship?"

First, she's basically admitted that her entire management staff is incompetent, as they cannot be trusted to determine whether or not someone who reports to them be allowed to work remotely, which is the most trivial of about a thousand things a good manager needs to be able to do well.

She has to make this decision for hundreds of teams, most of which she knows nothing about, and in the process has reversed agreements between managers and employees, many of whom were hired as remote employees and must now either quit or relocate.

Second, any time a CEO feels the need to intervene in the daily responsibility of managers, it is a warning sign that you are dealing with a capricious and/or panicked CEO.

There is a long history of this in tech. It is like the CEO of Adobe reversals surrounding flash. Or HPs famous schizo executive decisions to first buy Palm and then sell WebOS for pennies on the dollar. First to merge with Compaq for their consumer products and then get out of the consumer products business, and then no, they are back into consumer products and were only thinking about leaving. Now you see DELL doing something similar.

These are all companies who've had their economic rents severely eroded in their core products, and are now flailing around for something to do, because it turns out that the original company was founded on a brilliant idea that generated a substantial rent for a decade, but such brilliant ideas are not easy to reproduce and the current group of rents is shrinking.

Rather than innovate and create new products, they have decided that what is really needed is to shuffle some business units around, or adopt a new management "style", or to change the "culture". This invariably comes from a new CEO who did well at their old job (when the rents were still good) but is way over their head in this new, harder job.

The result is a series of capricious decisions that produce no increase in revenues or earnings. It is an insult to yahoo employees and to your readers to even dignify this with a discussion of whether the new management style is really better or whether the new culture improves on the old culture.

rsj "It is an insult to yahoo employees and to your readers to even dignify this with a discussion"

I would suggest reading the full G&M article before leaping to conclusions or condemning the entire discussion. There I write: "The real challenge facing Ms. Mayer is changing Yahoo into a company where people want to be, not forcing people to show up at meetings." This is not so different from your view.

I was talking to someone the other day who works in the political science department at a large Canadian university (not Carleton). He has a colleague who schedules all of his teaching for the fall term - 6 hours on Tues, 6 hours on Wed. For the 12 or 13 weeks of fall term, he makes the 6 hour trip from home to work, stays a couple of nights in town, and does his teaching. The rest of the time he leads a life of leisure, contributing zero to the administration of the department, zero to the student experience, and close to zero to research.

In the private sector, such an individual would be fired, but not in a university. I wouldn't want our senior administration to start restricting telework, but can I understand the temptation to do so? For sure I can.

And then there's Paul Frampton, who can't understand why he can't telecommute from an Argentinian prison and draw his full university salary.

"In the private sector, such an individual would be fired"

Don't be so sure about that. In a small, private firm they probably wouldn't last long. But there are plenty of places to hide in big firms. Like the C-suite, for example.


Your anecdote about the no-show professor is interesting. To my mind, this is really a matter of rules enforcement rather than work arrangements. Professor X is pretty clearly in breach-of-contract. With a little righteous effort on the part of his department he would be in serious hot water. But such is not likely to be forthcoming. What then will be gained by forcing Professor X to spend more time warming the seat in his office?

To my mind, this story actually illustrates the downside of collegiality, at least as it works in universities. I imagine Professor X has departmental colleagues who are in similar circumstances: people who have not published a scholarly word for ten years or more, who have a long track record of inept teaching, who spend more time on their personal consulting businesses than teaching and research combined. These people have no incentive to demand something be done about Professor X. And even those who do take their commitments seriously must ask themselves “Why should I rock the boat on this? Why should I antagonize people with whom I am going to deal until the day I retire? Why should I stick my neck out to remove an option that – who knows? - I might want to exercise one day?”


Regarding the colleague you talk about, you would have in the business world a manager that this person reports to. It is the job of the manager to manage this employee. It is not the job of the university president to do so.

A CEO, if they believe there are too few meetings(!), would send the signal to their directors that the company would benefit from common brainstorming sessions, and the directors would taylor that for their business units and pass the directive on down to managers who would implement it. It is like a captain steering a ship. The CEO does not say "You must wear a white shirt", the CEO tasks HR to come up with an appropriate dress code policy and then management is charged with interpreting that policy for each team. The dress code policy for the office in NY will be different than for the office in San Francisco. The dress code for the shipping and receiving staff will be different than that for engineers or customer-facing salespeople.

Those captains that do not trust that the steering wheel is connected to anything, may climb along the side of the boat and start to paddle with their hands.

Thus the CEO says "No one can work remotely", rather than making an executive decision, such as "Take into account the effects of working remotely on team cohesion when determining who can work from home". In one case the CEO trusts the judgement of his management and in the other case the CEO does not. That is the big news here.

The example you gave would in the private sector be considered a low level management failure. It would not capture the attention of the CEO. Now suppose the abuse was systemic. Then the Board of Regents might issue a statement asking university colleges to ensure that professors are performing enough research and or teaching enough classes (no one would care about working from home they care about results), and individual departments within the colleges *might* enforce that by taking away one individual's right to work remotely as long as their research performance was poor, or they might give them a larger teaching load if they were not viewed as productive during their time spent outside of teaching.

"the directors would taylor that for their business units"

Was that an intentional verbing of "Taylor"?

An interesting article on telecommuting at Wordpress:


Note the importance of culture and communication. As with my experience, they do not rely upon email. They also use blogs as non-real-time meetings.

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