An Open Letter to Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!

March 4, 2013

Image source: User gaku on flickr.

Dear Ms. Mayer,

First, a belated congratulations on the birth of your son. Congrats, as well, on your new job. Speaking of the new job, it seems your “no work from home” policy has generated a lot of commentary and discussion. Some are in your camp, while others disagree with you.

Image courtesy of Planning Startup Stories and Huffington Post

It seems most organization’s internal memos find their way “out,” so I was reading the one announcing the policy change (posted at AllThingsD). In the memo, a number of goals were outlined:

  1. We want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum.
  2. To become the absolute best place to work.
  3. We need to be one Yahoo!

With respect – and, knowing what your goals are, here’s how I would have done it.

1) Create an awesome office environment.

Image source: Robert Banh on flickr.

Look to your competition (Google – a place you may know a thing or two about). They provide office environments that workers love (perhaps more than they love their homes). Google provides free food, of course (and many other free services), but it really goes beyond that. The free stuff provides a foundation on top of which a flourishing, in-office culture develops and grows.

How you create awesome office environments depends on Yahoo’s culture and personality. Just copying Google won’t necessarily work. But here’s the great thing about doing it this way: you’ll be able to draw in those remote workers because they’ll decide that the perks of being in the office outweigh the conveniences of working from home.

So don’t compel them to come into the office, but create an office environment so awesome that it’s hard for them to stay away. An awesome office environment will naturally lead to higher morale and job satisfaction scores. On the flip side: if your current office environment remains unchanged, but you compel employees to come in and work there, can you really expect to achieve great things?

2) Identify the teams for which collaboration is most productive.

To be a rock star in Accounts Payable, you don’t need to collaborate (with others) as much as the rock star in Development or Product Management.

And while I can understand that HR policies need to apply to the entire herd, I think the “spirit” of driving more collaboration should be aimed at the particular groups for which it’s most productive and valuable. I think these teams should sit in the same physical space:

  1. Engineering and Development
  2. Sales (based on region)
  3. Products (product management, product marketing)
  4. Marketing
  5. Customer and End User Support

I’m a firm believer that a great idea can surface from a product manager speaking to an attorney and an accounting director. So I understand why you want all groups in the office together.

To start, however, focus on initiatives to get particular groups collaborating – then, find opportunities for cross-collaboration (e.g. product management and customer support, to help build better products based on what customers are telling you).

3) “Hack” your way to new products (in the office, of course).

It’s a “what have you done for me lately” world and I’m sure you’re focused on delivering results now. But consider things like overnight hackathons and Google’s “20% time.”

Hackathons can produce long term gains, while adding fun, excitement and “bonding opportunities” to your office environment. After all, with a hackathon, employees are required to come into the office – but this time, there’s an explicit purpose or goal. It’s not just, “come in, go to your desk, thank you very much.”

With regard to the separate activity of “20% time,” recall that without it, the world may not have Gmail.


Full disclosure: I’ve never run my own company before. So take this advice with a grain of salt. While some have disagreed vehemently with your policy, you’ve taken a stand. Best wishes on achieving your goals. The new home page looks pretty nice.


Dennis Shiao

%d bloggers like this: