Marissa Mayer and Working Remotely

The uproar this week is that recently appointed savior of Yahoo Marissa Mayer may have just caused herself irreparable damage by issuing a decree that requires everyone to work from the office rather than from home.

Even well-regarded titan of all things Richard Branson weighed in on the subject.

But what is really the issue here?

Surely Sir Richard would agree that not everyone can work from home all the time, can he?

Pieces of the business puzzle may be complimented by remote workers, or even replaced outright, such as a kiosk that provides check-ins to a flight or prints boarding passes, and a plane can assist in the flying through automated systems, there are simply times when a physical body needs to be present.

This isn’t much different.

Sure, there is a difference between the airline and the software industries, the parallels should be obvious. There are simply times when working in the office makes sense, and the knee-jerk reactions of many who suggest that this may be a bad thing are odd, to say the least.

A primary argument for working remotely is that you avoid the distractions of the office.

But anyone who has seen The Conference Call, by David Grady will be familiar – perhaps intimately so – with the distractions that happen anywhere, in or out of the office. And those that have connection problems may even end up somewhere like a coffee shop that has even more distractions than in the office, without the potential for the beneficial side conversations that happen unexpectedly (the exact kind of impromptu meeting referenced in the memo that started this whole dust-up!).

This says little of the distractions of the kids, the neighbors or Netflix when you aren’t on a conference call.

Lest there be any confusion, I understand the desire to work remotely – but to attempt to disguise it as a need rather than a want is just crazy. This is, after all, work that we are talking about, and there are distinct benefits to being in the office.

When Ms. Mayer worked at Google, she became familiar with a world where people wanted to go into the office, mostly because it was a cool place to work. Yahoo isn’t quite that place, though she has tried to make it so since she has been there. Thus far, it hasn’t worked – the employees have stayed away, coming in late and leaving early (if they come in at all). If Yahoo is going to survive, they need a kick-start.

This might just be it.

I’m really curious to see if they show up as one of the best employers in America next year. It certainly appears that others are following her lead.