Yahoo: Telecommuting isn't your problem

In a strange move, new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer pulled the rug out from under telecommuting employees. It won't help fix Yahoo's problems, but it's interesting to watch.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

What do you do when you don't know what to do? Beat up on your employees, of course. Bad employees — bad! Oh, wait, Yahoo allowed you to telecommute. I mean, it isn't like you just stopped showing up for work and decided to work from home, now, did you? No, of course not. And it's certainly Marissa Mayer's privilege to pull you back into the cubicles from whence you came so that you can be so much more efficient at your jobs. After all, you'll get a lot more work done now that you have to commute to and from work every day, take a lunch break, take your morning and afternoon breaks and have numerous conversations with co-workers. Yes, Marissa, it's way better to have your employees come in and sit at their desks.

Apparently Mayer has never read the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, The hard truth about telecommuting, that states the following in its lede:

"Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

This report clearly is in opposition to Ms Mayer's statements supporting her decision. That's OK, Marissa, you're in good company making bad decisions at Yahoo.

I think that Mayer's decision to stop telecommuting at Yahoo is a scenario that will play out like the movie plot in Wag the Dog. To say that I disagree with her decision is an understatement.

Yahoo's troubles aren't new. In fact, Paul Graham of Revenue Loop, which Yahoo Purchased, expands on the topic with history from an insider's point of view. For more history, check out What's wrong with Yahoo, from SiliconIndia.com (September 2011) and GigaOm's Om Malik June 2008 post, What's wrong with Yahoo.

So you see, Yahoo fans, it's an ongoing, endemic problem.

I would hope that Ms Mayer makes better decisions in her predictably short future as Yahoo CEO, but I won't hold my breath. I wrote short based on Yahoo CEO longevity shown in the list below:

  • Marissa Mayer (July 2012 - present)

  • Ross Levinsohn Interim (2012)

  • Scott Thompson (2012)

  • Tim Morse Interim (2011 - 2012)

  • Carol Bartz (2009 - 2011)

  • Jerry Yang (2007 - 2009)

  • Terry Semel (2001 - 2007)

  • Timothy Koogle (1995 - 2001)

The way I figure it, she has another year or so to fix it, bail, or get the boot. Godspeed, Marissa.

So, what are some possible solutions for Yahoo's problems? Here are my thoughts — free of charge — although I feel somewhat compelled to hold back for a sweet but short-lived CXO position at Yahoo. Alas, I submit my initial 10 thoughts here for your consideration. If Ms. Mayer decides to heed any of them, I'd appreciate the courtesy of a phone call for an interview.

  1. Behave like a technology company: You're not a media company, you're a technology company. Invest in technology and do some innovation.

  2. Listen to your users: I think we need to stop thinking that people and business are different than they have been for the past 6,000 years or so. Listen to your customers, even if you don't think they're always right.

  3. Focus on the product: Hire the best talent. You're in the heart of the best talent pool in the world, take your pick, give them a voice, and move forward.

  4. Dump stuff that doesn't work: Get rid of assets and features that no one cares about. You know what I used to love about Yahoo? The maps. Where are the maps?

  5. Forget redesign: It isn't your design that takes people away from Yahoo. The old design was better. It was easy to find things that you wanted to find. Focus on news and links. Simplicity is your key to success.

  6. Have a workable vision: Forget the silly mission statements that no one listens to. Have a vision and carry it through.

  7. Build employee loyalty: Seriously, has your top talent bailed along with your revenue? The people in your company are its lifeblood. They want to follow a leader with vision, and one who has leadership qualities worth following. Everyone makes mistakes. Admit when you're wrong and fix it.

  8. Ask for help: Every General has advisors who help make decisions. Ask for help from peers, competitors (yes, competitors), employees, and mentors. If you can't ask for help, then you're not a good leader.

  9. Stop worrying about shareholders and worry more about stakeholders: If you spoil your customers, build brand loyalty, and foster a good work environment, how can you lose?

  10. Take some advice from your own news feed: Seven habits of the ultra wealthy.

Marissa, I'm sorry that so many have thrown stones at you (myself included). Your position as Yahoo CEO, in addition to your very bad decision to stop employee telecommuting, has placed you in the firing line. It's not a comfortable place to be and you'll have to grow a thicker skin to survive it. I hope you're open to some good advice as I've outlined in my 10 ideas to improve Yahoo. If not, I won't be offended.

Don't hold one bad decision up as a reason not to like Marissa Mayer. She could turn out to be a very good CEO in spite of this one bump. Nobody's perfect.

As a stone thrower, I'd like to say that I'd take some sage advice from the worldwide audience and make some changes that really matter at Yahoo. Telecommuting is not your problem. It never was. The problems existed before telecommuting. The problems associated with telecommuting are a symptom of the real problem. And, yes, I could do better, though I'll never get the chance to do so.

One final suggestion: See if Microsoft is still interested in buying Yahoo.

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