Marissa Mayer defends her famous ban on remote work: ‘I hope that’s not my legacy’

Marissa Mayer
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Fortune/Business Insider

Marissa Mayer is still defending her controversial decision back in 2013 to ban Yahoo employees from working from home.

At the same time, she indicated she wished the world would move on.

“I hope it’s not my legacy. I definitely got more of an external response than I even did internally,” she said to Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky at the Global Forum conference on Tuesday in San Francisco.

She said the decision stemmed from her first few months at Yahoo, when she was spending a couple of hours every day in the cafeteria talking to any employee who wanted to chat.

Certain employees “who were working really hard on some key products” had complained to her they were being hamstrung by absenteeism by co-workers, she said.

“Actually, I had less of an issue with people who had really good work-from-home setups. A lot of time when people work from home formally, it works really well. I have nothing against working from home per se. My brother works from home, she added.

But she felt like people who were supposed to come into the office were often abusing the right to work from home, using excuses like bad traffic, bad weather, or “waiting for the cable guy,” she said. “I think we all know in that setting, you don’t necessarily have the most productive day.”

Mayer decided on the ban after spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo parking lots were and consulting Yahoo’s VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough.

On Tuesday she explained, “People are more collaborative, more inventive when people come together.”

She gave the example of Yahoo’s weather app team and the Flickr team who worked together to show appropriate weather photos in the app.

“Those things don’t come together unless someone from Flickr runs into someone from Weather in the hallway or cafeteria and has that conversation,” she said.

Lashinsky asked if she realised at the time that the decision was going to be controversial or thought it was going to start a trend.

“Not really,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily the right stance for industry or the world at large. We weren’t trying to make a broader commentary on working styles or working for home. We were just saying, look, it was the right thing for us in that moment.”

She might have been right. As we reported at the time, inside Yahoo, while some employees disliked the ban many agreed with it, recognising that Yahoo’s culture needed to change.

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