Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer used her April 19 keynote address at “Great Place to Work,” a conference for human resources professionals and senior executives, to finally address her decision to ask Yahoo’s remote workers to come to the office.
It was the first time that Mayer publically addressed the policy change. Until today, Yahoo’s public statement on the matter had been: “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home. This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.”
After launching into her keynote, Mayer paused and, bringing up a projection of a purple elephant, according to Fortune, said she “needed to talk about the elephant in the room.”
“We were doing what was right for Yahoo right now. It was wrongly perceived as an industry narrative,” Mayer said, according to a report from Employee Benefit News (EBN). “We’ve done a lot recently in terms of increasing the spirit of the campus. We wanted to make sure our employees were drawn to it and could really collaborate there.”
The company has changed work areas at its headquarters, now offers free food in the cafeteria, like Google does, and (also like Google) holds all-hands Friday meetings to review the week and, afterward, socialize.
Mayer told the audience that she subscribes to the theory that “people are more productive when they’re alone but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”
In trying to return Yahoo to some of its former glory, collaboration, and the major ideas that can come from it, is what Mayer is after.
In February, Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s chief of human resources, sent out a companywide email saying that as of June, all employees with remote-working arrangements will be expected to instead work from the office.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Reses said in her note, which was leaked to the press.
According to reports, Mayer made the decision after being frustrated by Yahoo’s empty parking lot and desolate office environment—far cries from the bustling campus of her former employer, Google—and after checking VPN logs and discovering that many work-from-home employees weren’t logging in every day.
While the policy change was in line with comments Mayer had made about the importance of a company’s culture, and likely were indeed, as Mayer said, right for Yahoo at the time, it struck a nerve and was discussed everywhere from the front page of The New York Times to neighborhood parenting forums.
That Mayer herself rubs against the status quo—a young, attractive CEO who took the job seven months pregnant—likely helped to propel the policy change from an internal memo to a topic of national, if not global, conversation.
Mayer also made headlines when she decided she wanted to personally meet every hiring candidate—a process that Yahoo insiders, according to reports, complained was slowing down the process and causing Yahoo to lose strong candidates to faster-moving competitors.
At the HR conference, which was held in Los Angeles, Mayer shared that changes to Yahoo’s culture seem to be working. She told the audience, according to EBN, that 14 percent of Yahoo’s new hires during the first quarter were “boomerangs,” employees who had left but applied to come back.
“I think it’s amazing that 14 percent of people we hired in Q1 want to come back and help Yahoo return to greatness,” said Mayer.