Did Yahoo's Mayer Do Her Research on Telecommuting?

Although well intended, Yahoo may be making a mistake when it comes to virtual teamwork.

An internal memo from Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, mandated that telecommuters would now be required to come into "the office" to enhance collaboration and innovation. Ms. Mayer's explanation was that collaboration and innovation were more difficult when employees were not co-located, and therefore unable to engage in spontaneous face-to-face interactions that foster creative thinking.

Darleen DeRosa, Managing Partner at OnPoint Consulting, commented that "Ms. Mayer is correct in her assertion that face-to-face interaction in environments that stimulate an open exchange of ideas contributes to innovative, and possibly real breakthrough, thinking. Unfortunately, Ms. Mayer's action misses the point. In today's globally competitive work environment, making telecommuters come into the office might have some unintended consequences." For example, many of the current telecommuters came to Yahoo because of the flexible work schedule and eliminating this may negatively impact levels of motivation and increase turnover. This change in policy is also likely to result in inefficiencies and additional costs without the full benefits that Ms. Mayer anticipates. DeRosa explained that "research has shown that productivity and brainstorming can be superior in a virtual setting."

OnPoint's study found that the most effective virtual leaders use a combination of technology and a change in their behavior (as described in OnPoint's RAMP Model - Relationships, Accountability, Motivation, and Purpose and Process) to enable virtual team members to successfully collaborate from a distance. For example, if Yahoo implemented processes to hold telecommuters accountable for innovation and collaboration, it would likely see better results (or the "A" in RAMP model).

"What Yahoo is experiencing is a phenomenon we identified in our research and consulting work - many organizations simply recycle team processes that worked in a co-located environment and apply them to a virtual setting with little success" says DeRosa. If Yahoo, and other global organizations, want to leverage the advantages of virtual teams (e.g., sourcing the best talent wherever they are, managing work 24/7 as it moves around the globe, and providing flexible work schedules to improve quality of life), they need to ensure the organization is prepared to support virtual work and that leaders and team members have the skills to collaborate in a virtual environment.

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