Is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Against Women’s Rights?

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Yahoo ($YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer just told all her employees that they couldn’t work from home anymore.  Some employees were incensed.  A few critics said she was defrocking women and taking away their livelihood.  CEO Mayer was making it tough  on them because now they would have to find childcare to schlep into the office.

“Companies may be starting to backtrack on what had been a growing national movement to allow employees to telecommute in their jammies, he said. Work-from-home jumped from 73 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to research by Telework Research Network. But managers may be deciding that they’re losing too much productivity.”

Richard Branson, Virgin’s CEO ($VMED), criticized Mayer’s decision.

If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality.

Working life isn’t 9-5 any more. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.

Ironically, it just so happens I have been doing a lot of research into co-working and what it all means over the past several months.  If you cowork, and you are not using Desktimeapp to find or manage your cowork space, you are probably missing out.

Next week, I will be in Austin, TX at the international conference on co-working.  I am sure this will come up.  But, I hope the topic is treated in a thoughtful way.

For Mayer, I don’t think this was a choice between the right to work at home, or having to come into an office.  My guess is there is a lot more behind that decision than how it has been reported.

When you are setting up a business, a lot of thought should go into corporate culture. Mayer came from Google ($GOOG).  Google has set up a “cult like” corporate culture in their offices.  The jobs that Google offers for telecommuting are not permanent.  They are one off and not critical to the mission or corporate culture of Google.

Profs Ron Burt and Michael Gibbs, both of ChicagoBooth, talk about corporate culture in their classes on Strategic Management and Organizational Design.  Both courses are quantitative, but both also deal well with the touchy feely parts of the company.

Corporate culture is important because it can be a brand differentiator in the marketplace.  Some of the great corporate cultures of our time open doors for employees before they get to customers.  Customers have a pre-determined expectation about the value they will get from doing business with certain companies.

Burt would tell you that Apple ($AAPL) and Google have set up cult like corporate cultures with rights of passage and common experiences for all employees.  This is a way for organizations to come together.  If you ever went through basic training in the military, or joined a greek organization in college, you went through a right of passage designed to mold a culture within that organization.

Gibbs talks about different companies and how they are organized.  One classic case he teaches introduces students to the way the Ritz Carlton hotel chain trains employees and runs their business.  It is a cult.  Plus, no matter what hotel you go to anywhere in the world, you will see the same high standards, using similar language over and over again.

Yahoo hasn’t exactly been the most innovative company in the world over the last decade.  I believe Mayer is starting fresh, and part of that re-ignition is massaging the lackluster culture that exists at Yahoo.  The fastest way to remake the culture is get everyone in the same place and put them through a right of passage that transforms the company.

University of Illinois Professor Ravi S. Gajendran has a different take.

 more cynically, this may be a strategic way of jettisoning older, more senior employees who are most likely the beneficiaries of the work from program. Why lay-off when you can get people to willingly leave? This creates a leaner organization that unites around a common vision in a shared space.

Is co-working right for your company?  It depends on how you structure it but most businesses are finding they can save overhead costs by co-working.  Many corporations are considering “hoteling” their raw office space.  I have a way that they can earn more dollars per square foot using some hoteling within their existing office space to make it more productive.  Sometimes the addition of new and revolving faces in certain areas of your company stimulates creativity and production.

Co-working is here to stay with us.  Businesses can find ways to integrate it into their business model, and still keep the corporate culture that they prize.   In her memo to employees, Mayer alluded to going back to some co-working.  She stated that “at this time” it makes sense for all of Yahoo’s employees to be in the office.

Once there, it will be easier to get their attention and change the way they do business.  But eventually, I bet Yahoo co-works again.

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