Photo: JD Lasica
In bringing remote workers back into Yahoo’s offices, Marissa Mayer was taking a page out of her former employer’s book. People at Google tend to love it there, and their corporate culture is much envied. The many perks Googlers cite as their favourites, like free food and a concierge service, are very office-centric. You don’t see working from home on the list.
Google CFO Patrick Pichette laid out the company’s thoughts on the matter in a talk in Syndey: “The surprising question we get is: ‘How many people telecommute at Google?’ And our answer is: ‘As few as possible.'”
Googlers can work wherever they want, but are strongly encouraged to commute to an office. As for the rationale:
“There is something magical about sharing meals, there is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer ‘What do you think of this?’ These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities.”
To make that argument clear and compelling, Google provides great food, amazing offices, and great amenities. Those encourage people to come early, stay late, work weekends at the office, and collaborate on ideas during lunch. It means more productivity, and a more cohesive culture.
The other part of Google’s argument is unstated, but very compelling. All that free stuff saves employees a lot of money, and is tantamount to extra income. DealBook’s Victor Fleischer put together a great breakdown of the tax benefits of coming into the office:
“Suppose Abe works at Yahoo, makes $150,000 a year and is taxed at an effective 33 per cent rate, thereby paying $50,000 in taxes. Bridget, by contrast, makes $120,000 and also enjoys $30,000 of untaxed fringe benefits.
Bridget’s tax liability is only $40,000 (33 per cent of $120,000), meaning that she pays $10,000 (or 20 per cent) less in taxes, yet received the same economic compensation as Abe.”
The tax implications of this are a bit hazy, but you don’t get those fringe benefits if you’re working from home. That’s a pretty powerful case for coming into the office.
Mayer has tried to make that case. She’s added Google-esque perks like free food at Yahoo. She may have expected that to bring people back to the office, and to create a more Google-like culture.
But when that still wasn’t filling parking lots, instead of approaching remote workers individually, making that case, and reviewing options over time, they gave people an ultimatum. The memo Yahoo sent, mentions the ideas of increasing collaboration and making better offices, but it’s entirely muted by the news that people have a period of months to completely change their work lives.
The remote work culture clearly needed reform, but the transition wasn’t handled as it should have been, and Yahoo’s more compelling arguments weren’t articulated well.
As a result, what should be a corporate turnaround story has turned into a huge debate about the value of remote work.
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