Yahoo's Telecommuting Ban a Doomed Attempt to Turn Back the Clock

NEWS ANALYSIS: Back in the days when Yahoo was the hottest Internet startup on the planet, telecommuting barely existed and the company had only a few employees. Apparently the new telework ban is an attempt to return to 1994.

There’s no question that Marissa Mayer remembers the days when Yahoo was the biggest name on the Internet. In those days of glory, Yahoo’s place as a search engine, information portal and quasi social network were unrivaled. Back then Yahoo was a much smaller company than it is now (although now it’s much smaller than in its heydays). Clearly in those days, Yahoo was doing something right.

One of the things that Yahoo was doing right was to keep itself in a constant state of innovation. The company managed to do this by having two guys, David Filo and Jerry Yang, who worked together and spent a lot of time brainstorming.

When Yahoo launched its IPO in 1996, it had a total of 49 employees. Those were heady days indeed. And when I first met Jerry Yang shortly after that, his focus was on finding ways to help his company grow while finding the right people to create a world class company.

That was then. Now Yahoo has a new CEO who clearly misses those days when everyone in the company could sit around and toss ideas back and forth. Unfortunately, the Yahoo of then is not the Yahoo of now. The Yahoo of now is a global corporation that does everything from web hosting to video streaming. But it appears that Ms. Mayer wants to clone the old Yahoo, spontaneously born from the brow of today’s global Yahoo.

Problem is, this isn’t 1996. Try as she might, there’s no way Ms. Mayer can recreate the young, lean innovative company that was the product of the imagination of two engineers. Yahoo is not a broken toy that you can reassemble. In reality, it’s not the same company. But in Mayer’s effort to recreate the young, agile Yahoo she has chosen to adopt the least productive path—to ban telework.

The reason, she claims, is to put everybody back in the same building so their innovation can spring forth again. But in the process, she is knowingly casting away some of Yahoo’s best minds—probably into the arms of its competitors. Sure, she’ll make them sign non-compete forms, but it’s no secret that those are unenforceable. What she’ll do instead is enrich the talent pool of other companies at the expense of her own.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...