Give Marissa the benefit of the doubt on the work-from-home thing

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 , Posted by Johnny Fuery at 1:15 AM

I'm a CEO. Yes, my LinkedIn says "Principal Engineer" and I occasionally toss around "President", but I'm a founder, I'm responsible for people's paychecks, and I've arguably hustled harder and pulled more all-nighters than Sergei and Larry ever have.

But I'm just trying to invoke street cred. My point has nothing to do with my accomplishments.

The interwebs have criticized Marissa Mayer of Yahoo left, right, and sideways about making folks come into the office. I don't know Marissa, I'm not sure of her abilities, and I don't have a bone to pick with her or Yahoo as a company.

I do know that it has been a long time since I thought of Yahoo as innovative. I also happen to know what it is to work for a medium sized company with a culture lacking accountability or inspiration.

I also think that Marissa deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. The outlaw against working from home has nothing to do with feminism, women's rights, respect for employees, American competitiveness, or anything else quite so grandiose. It has to do with managing smart (we hope) people in a "maintain the status quo" environment.

Now, let me tell you something about what smart people do when faced with a six-figure paycheck and no real accountability.

  1. Leave and start your own company. This, of course, requires capital, a fantastic idea, and lots of hubris. Pick any two. Add tenacity if you're wise.
  2. Leave and join a company with better culture, probably a startup.
  3. Do the minimum, "work" from home for a couple of hours daily, and "fly low".
  4. Slightly more sensibly (or ethically), hang out, doing the minimum, until you can put together 2 out of 3 items in #1 and then start your own company. This might be the same as #3 if you're reading this.
  5. Fight the frustratingly sluggish brass at your firm and either get promoted to a point where this exercise is moot or slapped down until you give up the fight in quiet pain as your devotion to king and country is squandered at the hands of bad management. 
  6. Quit with no fallback plan because you are just that cocky. Or, perhaps, that good.
  7. Start a blog calling Paul Krugman an idiot, Marissa Mayer aloof, and Rush Limbaugh the Messiah. Hey, there are probably readers in that demographic. 
If you're seeing a pattern here, if you are a Yahoo employee that stuck around through the 17 re-appointments of Jerry Yang at the big Y!, if you think that showing up for a job 5 days a week is a travesty, then you probably aren't working all that hard.

And Marissa, for all that you might reasonably question her about, is not an idiot. If half her staff are phoning it in, she knew that her third day on the job. And that's just because she slept on it twice to sanity check herself.

The culture at Yahoo needs to change. People have to step up to the plate and give it their best. And the best is not up for grabs if you are phoning it in between soccer practice at 10:30am and the rotary club at 2.

So, Yahoos, it is time to get to work. You got some cool new smart phones, a hot CEO, a multiple month grace period to proactively step up to the plate, and a bump in your stock for little more than lip service. Now get to f***ing work. If you don't like the pressure and you think showing up is a Draconian measure, you're free to go start your own company and/or go work for someone else who will (gasp) also expect results.

Ms. Mayer would not have taken this measure if her staff were hitting home runs. My guess is that most Yahoos haven't worked a legit 40 hours (and that doesn't mean 40 hours with your ass in a chair, it means actually building things) since 2001. When that changes, you'll get your flexible WFH schedules back.

For my part, I would gladly pay six figures to an employee of my company who could produce what I can in any regard while working from home. Heck, you can phone it in as long as the results are measurable and genuine. But I'm not an idiot, either, and if you can't, you better at least answer the corporate desk phone when I call you at 9am.

And maybe, just maybe, with a little bit of discipline, you'll start caring again, and earning that "smart" adjective.

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