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Roger Philby

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Blog: why Marissa Mayer is right to ban remote working


This week the world has been horrified, apparently, by a leaked memo from Yahoo!’s HR team that instructs staff that they should be working from the Yahoo! offices and not from home.

Cue the web coming alive with people criticising the move, including via Twitter, motivational luminaries such as Dan Pink.

Some of the criticism appears to be generated by her gender, “how can a working mum do this?” seems to be the gist of it!

Why has that got anything to do with it?!

Of course on the face of it, with technology the way it is and the prevailing thinking being working from home is an empowering thing for the employee, this does look like an employee baiting move…BUT for the fact that Yahoo! are:
a) In a whole world of trouble
b) A business model that relies on innovation
In 2003 when Archie Norman took over Energis Communications he instigated the exact same ban on home working.
Six  weeks ago I issued pretty much the exact same memo to our employees, I believe the reasons in all cases are nearly the same:
1. Yahoo! and Energis (thankfully not Chemistry) are/were in a lot of pain. When you are in pain, communication is critical, as an executive team it is easier, faster and more measurable to communicate to “live” people as oppose to “virtual” people.
You can communicate spontaneously and measure the reaction in an instant, you can pull disparate functions together quickly…when you can see, touch and sense your employees the communication is more relevant and richer. Right now for Yahoo!, and back then for Energis, this desire to “touch” the employees directly was critical.
For Chemistry it’s critical because we have a distinctive culture, it’s one of our USPs, one you don’t learn by working from home, you learn from observing, living and getting feedback from the organisation itself. Our Business Analysts are technologically able to work from home, except I don’t like it or as a rule allow it.
2. I subscribe to the “collision theory”, the more collisions you create in any given day, the more creative your environment. Scientifically the interest is in the rate of reaction, defined as the “rate of reaction depends on the temperature and concentration of the reactants”.  
In a human space I believe this is about the combination of the environment and the purpose communicated by the leadership. Steve Jobs designed the first Apple campus with the toilets in the centre of the building to encourage “collisions”, the finance, marketing, sales, R&D teams collided on the way to the loo!
Yahoo!, by insisting people work from their offices, are creating both the environment for collisions and the proximity to be able to communicate consistently Yahoo!’s purpose. Chemistry achieves this by mandating everyone works from the office on Monday, it’s our collision time!
Marissa did make one mistake, issuing the memo via HR, this was clearly her decision and as CEO she should have sent the message herself, reinforcing her purpose at the same time.
People are the responsibility of the CEO; she missed an opportunity to tell her organisation and the external market this.
The decision however was spot on.

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