As a CEO and a former Yahoo!, as well as the husband of an extremely high leverage full-time remote employee, here is my $0.02.
There has been a ton of hand-wringing about the insensitivity and wrong-headedness of this move. Its not fair to working mothers. Or older workers. Or of workers who have jobs that are performed better in solitude. I don’t think any of these arguments are wrong, but I don’t think they are to the point.
Marissa Meyer has been handed the keys to a company that has a ton going for it, most importantly a strong consumer brand and a ton of eyeballs. To use a real estate analogy, its like a night club that used to be a hot spot, is in a killer downtown location, but is no longer the place where the coolest people go. The food is solid but boring, the employees are nice but not outstanding.
Its a safe bet that Marissa and her team have identified some strategies and tactics that they think will really improve the value of the underlying company. But I’m sure that they also have been frustrated by the slow pace of progress and change. She has come from a place where the metronome is beating a bit faster. The culture needs to change.
I left Yahoo! in 2007. It may be hard to believe, but in 2004 Yahoo! had an incredible employee base. It was a great place to work, and we working on some really cool problems. I would love to write or even read the oral history of Yahoo! Pretty much starting in 2007 Yahoo! suffered a great diaspora. Now there are obviously exceptions and I could name a few, but for the most part the rock stars have left the building with a very high velocity, one that is probably historically unprecedented. If you have Yahoo! on your resume and decide you want to go, you will find multiple exits in about a week. I can name 20 people I worked with there 6 years ago who are doing amazing things.
If you do the math, you are left with an employee base that didn’t want to leave for better opportunities. They were happy with being well compensated in a B company. Its still a “good” job. There is a selection bias in the resulting employee base when those with a lot of ambition are gone. I’m not saying those left behind are bad employees, every big company needs all kinds. And of course there are tons of exceptions, I’m speaking in percentages. But Yahoo is left with a hole in its culture of ambition, and doubtless that is over-indexed in the WFH employee base. Again, I am married to a full time high leverage employee of a Big Company. I love WFH!! But its understandably a problem at Yahoo!
So my conclusion is that Marissa and her exec team don’t have as much problem philosophically with working from home and its impact on the larger economy and social structure. I’m sure 5 years from now Yahoo will have employees that work from home again. But they are faced with turning around a culture that has a lot of inertia, not enough fire starters in the mix. In that context a broad stroke like eliminating Work From Home makes sense to me. Even though they are at risk for losing some A players, they are sending a signal that the culture needs to change. It’s worth a try. I can tell you that in the start up world, we aren’t looking for people who want to work from home, even if the job could be done from home.