Shame on Yahoo

Yahoo_logo_2The businesses that launched in the early days of the
internet were set on changing the world.  That also meant changing the
work place and their environments.  I know because I worked in one.

I was the second person at Silicon Alley Reporter in the mid-90s when anyone involved in the Internet scene thought that we were all going to change the world.  Now we all know the way we live our lives is not going to change over night but it was the beginning of change.  Here is what was life changing for me.  I worked at Silicon Alley Reporter heading up all sales including involvement in the overall big picture of how the company was going evolve.  I had 3 young kids at home all under the age of 5 and I worked from home.  I had a home office that was next to the kids playroom.  I fielded 150 emails a day, 50 phone calls and faxes.  The business grew and the sales grew and I eventually hired a sales staff in LA and NY.  I came in once a week and talked to my group daily.  Trust me we did not lose out because we were not all under one roof every day.

Certainly Yahoo has found itself way down a path where the culture of the company is perhaps out of control.  The company has gone through several CEO's in a very short amount of time.   Changing the culture of an organization is like turning around a cruise ship.  It takes a long time.  I do not believe that shooting a new mandate across the bow of the ship is going to change the culture. 

There are 14,500 people who work at Yahoo.  Digging in to every single division is time consuming.  Who is running each area, what are they getting done, what projects are they working on, what are they just maintaining, are the creative people getting together a few times a week face to face, are divisions working together or are there a variety of fiefdoms, can the company be more nimble and efficient with 9000 people.  I am going to assume that these questions are being asked and the powers that be are digging down into management from the bottom up.  It takes time but if you can clean up the company and culture in a strategic disciplined calculated way then the concept of flexible work can and should exist.  It has to.  It is the principles that Yahoo and others companies of that generation were built on.

When I worked at Macys, many years ago, they went from being a publically trading company to a privately held one  They took on massive debt.  How did upper management deal?  They put restrictions on all management so that nobody had any flexibility to make decisions because they micromanaged the process from above.  That is exactly what is happening at Yahoo.  What happened at Macys is the best and the brightest jumped ship. 

Beware to Yahoo, you will get what you paid for.  The best and brightest will jump ship, the next round of employees will not be self-starters but working stiffs, the environment will become boring with zero innovation and will feel like an old school bank and the costs will be higher for every employee to have a chair and people will be clamoring to get out and home by 5pm.

Yet the worst thing that they have done is send a message to families, working parents who want and truly need the flexibility to be productive at work and be productive happy parents at home.  Their dreams that internet businesses will change the work environment is over.  In particular the ability to give women especially mothers the opportunity to work and be present in their childrens lives while leveling the playing field because technology has created a platform to do that….well that bubble at Yahoo just burst.  Shame shame on Yahoo.  No longer a leader of change. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I saw this news while I was on a Skype call with a client from Europe who I mentor their team remotely weekly.Foolish decision with no real upside anywhere.

  2. Sharon

    You said it, and love the way you do. Im participating in a conference called: “The future of work and work of our future”– and working remotely is the structure of the future. However, like anything, it takes great leadership- and distributed leadership- to make sure it works well. Yahoo’s response is not well thought through, and shows inexperience.

  3. Marla Aaron

    Thanks for this. Was waiting for you to weigh in. i noticed you left out (perhaps on purpose?) the small yet incendiary detail of Mayer’s nursery she had built in her office. That piece of it just bothers me to no end. I can’t imagine what it would feel like as a Yahoo working parent.

    1. Gotham Gal

      i am sure other working parents at yahoo are not loving it.

  4. Anne Libby

    My educated guess is that they’re so out of control that management doesn’t know who is working and who isn’t.Mashable reports that people who were ostensibly “working from home” were founding startups — on both the dime of Yahoo investors, and to the detriment of the good people who are actually working for the company.As a large company manager in a large company in the 90s, I saw another manager allow an employee to start and run a business from his cubicle! Everyone around him knew it, and it wasn’t a good thing. What will a superstar employee think/do when this is allowed?I have to respect Yahoo’s decision to corral their resources to rationalize what’s actually going on. They’re not making a decision for the industry, they’re making a decision for their investors, employees, and stakeholders.And if we keep watching, I’ll bet we’ll see a flexible workplace return at Yahoo. Down the road a bit.

    1. Gotham Gal

      agree, they just had to do something. we will see.

      1. Anne Libby

        I am rooting for them. It has the potential to be an awesome turnaround story.

  5. Susan Rubinsky

    Amen. As a single Mom during the dot com boom, the flexibility to work from home gave me the freedom to actually work. These days, I have subcontractors that I’ve been working with for years, many of whom I have never actually met in person.

  6. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Amen. They won’t be able to attract top talent in this environment.If everyone is evaluated based upon their performance and contribution, how and from what location they do it is secondary.Getting together and having a company culture is important. But I always point to Automattic as an example. Their company is 100% distributed, and they seem to have an awesome company culture so far as I can see.Mayer just had a baby and is treating herself to an in-office nursery? Wow. From the outside, it doesn’t look good.

  7. jill stern

    No system is perfect. While 9-5 is not ideal, there really are some drawbacks from having your staff work from home. I can’t knock what she called for –yet! Only time will tell.

  8. ErikSchwartz

    I am an ex-yahoo (1997-2000). In my era no one worked from home and Yahoo did very well. Things were moving way too fast. Resources were way too tight, and if you weren’t in the office your resources would get scooped up by other projects.I know for a fact that WFH has been widely abused at YHOO for many years. I suspect this edict is less comprehensive than it appears. By saying no one can work from home and then making case by case exceptions for strong producers it allows them not to have to justify to under performers (of whom there are many) why they have to show up.

  9. morefromalan

    I like to think I’m an impact player at work. I also like to think I’m a good dad.Early morning or late night calls with London, Bangalore and Tokyo are the norm. So are days when I have to leave before 4 in order to take my daughter to physical therapy.I have to manage teams to make sure working remotely or at odd hours is not abused. And foster collaboration. I have to make sure that people’s personal time is protected in an age of being always connected.Welcome to the 21st century. We’re global, connected, and have families by choice. We believe there’s more to raising a family than bringing home a check. And we believe there’s more to earning a check than punching in 9 to 5.

  10. aarondelcohen

    Interesting comments here. Fairly split between men and women. Not perfectly, but I can’t help but think about how much men influence the technology industry and the biases that come with that.

    1. Gotham Gal

      spot on.

  11. Darryl

    No longer a leader of change. Homepage included. Perhaps the brightest mind have aready left and in its place they left a Homepage joke. A nightmare that reflect the companies new culture. This is where they are headed. Into the land of confusion, cludder and frustration. This is the new Yahoo.

    1. Gotham Gal


  12. prvt ctzn

    I initially completely understood the decision banning employees from telecommuting. The important points to consider are that she is a new CEO and this is an indication of how bad things things must be within the company. This would help her figure out who her best employees are. She can always bring back flextime once/if the situation stabilizes.However, reading the actual memo, and about the nursery built next to her suite changed my perspective completely. I started thinking about all the parents who would have enrolled their kids in childcare close to home, about whether Yahoo provides on-site daycare, and if she had mentioned anything in her memo about easing the process for these kinds of situations. No. Only a flippant mention about ‘staying home for the cable guy’.How you go about such a process is important. In an already depressed economy, such words and actions from technology leaders are only bringing down the morale of all parents (not just women) and employees of companies all over the U.S. Waiting for good, better role models..

  13. bsoist

    I gotta tell you I was a little worried when I read the title of this post. I’ve heard enough talk about how she should have known better as a women. That somehow she should behave differently because of the sisterhood or whatever.I’m glad that’s not the point you were making. I remember a post you wrote recently about the differences between men and women. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments there, but I think we agree that the job of a CEO should be evaluated solely on the merits of the decisions made, not in light of the CEO’s gender.This decision bugs me a little. On the one hand, I think it’s a step in the wrong direction. I think they will lose good talent over it. On the other, I admire any decision to take control of a mess and fix it. I just hope this is not a sign of micromanagement.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Time will tell.