Kindled Meme

– exploring the purpose of connection

Yahoo’s workplace pivot – Distance is bad


Marissa Mayer has caused a disturbance this week with the comments about making her workforce come into the office.

In a digital world where we are always on and always connected, the idea of locking someone to a desk seems backwards and not in keeping with a company trying to create itself a new future. When trying to balance up the value behind the Yahoo CEO’s moves, seeing Donald Trump backing these moves confirms the action is more aligned to industrial thinking than the digital era.

You would expect in our social age with a glut of collaboration and communication tools that we don’t need to be in the same location to do great work. The 37 Signals guys are spread all over the world and anyone who works for a tech company pretty much expects to be remote. We’ve got Hangouts and Skype for a focused ‘synchronous’ exchange and circles, yammer and email for all the other bits. There are plenty of ways to be ‘glued’ these days.

The bigger question here is what has Mayer found that needs fixing – not the choice of action.

We know we do our best work when fully engaged when we’ve got great colleagues, great products to work with and customers that are believers in what we do. That can happen whether we’re in the same office or virtually – its about having a purpose to what we do. So whats missing at Yahoo?

What’s missing in the mindset to makes it a creative and collaborative environment – a place that’s action-oriented and start banging out products ad services that people need, want and want to talk about. What have Yahoo got in their ‘unwritten rules of the game’ that is blocking the CEO’s progress – when she is putting a stake in the ground I wonder what it is that she is trying to stamp out. And what happened to the trust – the T-word that is at the centre of all collaborative work – whether near or far.

When looking into collaborative climate in organisations one piece of research that my professor on Knowledge Management pointed me towards captures the core of what is needed to be effective. These guys – Sveiby and Simons – set down a number of key dimensions to being collaborative and having people pull together.

Older is better – connecting the right people to act requires social networks within organisations that junior staffers don’t yet have

Power is knowledge – junior ranking staff do not have the influencing skills to shape their environment

Big is Better – SME’s are not as good as large firms as finding and distributing knowledge within the company

Distance is bad – initiatives that bring us closer should be profitable investments

Private is better – Public institutions are simply not as effective at knowledge sharing as private companies

Social networks, influence, sharing knowledge, proximity and effective connection of resources – at a macro level all these themes resonate with the wider digital and social environment we live within today. The goals of a collaborative climate resonate with the best digital behaviours of the social media savvy. We live in collaborative times.

And yet “Distance is Bad” does not sit so easily. And when Mayer brings her staffers back to HQ this is what she is eliminating. Surely technology has bridged this gap – is distance really a blocker these days. Trust is built through micro-interactions, project sharing is effective through Yammer conversations and the water cooler conversations are now replaced by instagram ‘likes’ and twittersphere downtime.

The Sveiby research was conducted 10 years ago – but has our Social Era technology blown away that point?

Or is it the case that you can only do great collaborative work when a group of folk are ‘connected’? Joined by a leader, a purpose or a vision – and maybe supported by common geography.

Are we getting distracted by the ‘What’ and ‘How’ of Marissa Mayers actions and not yet know the ‘why’? There has got to be a reason behind her choice. What is missing in Yahoo right now that needs recalibrating before the trust and climate come back.

And thinking laterally…. if I had the chance to be in an office with Marissa Mayer I would be taking it – wouldn’t you?


Author: jameslramsay

Practice director at the ShelfLife project - digital by day, campfire by night

5 thoughts on “Yahoo’s workplace pivot – Distance is bad

  1. Great post, James. And good questions. Plus: I like your lateral thinking :).

    There probably is a good reason to get the people at Yahoo back into the offices. Having the ability, tools and infrastructure to work remotely, does not necessarily mean that it will be a successful approach. And let’s face it: Yahoo had lost its way. Maybe this move is as simple as weeding out the bad seeds or just trying to improve the connectedness. Despite all these wonderful tools we have now (from Yammer to Instagram via all sorts of wikis and hangouts), the face-to-face meeting is still the most powerful way of connecting. And if people don’t use the virtual water cooler spaces, there’s no trust being build or connections being strengthened.

    It would be interesting to see what’s next, and maybe one day Mrs Mayer shares the why and we all think she’s done the best thing ever. Or not 🙂

    • Arjan – I agree with you

      The face to face lets us really understand another’s style and intentions – we can see if we are on the same wavelength and both agree on the barriers and the outcomes we are seeking.

      If you cant make the effort to attend a location just what other excuses will people use for not committing and delivering.

      In my research last year the most important thing people sought from a collaboration partner was

      “to know the person will deliver”

      I guess the first part is simply being willing to turn up

      That said, I am a big believer in social business technology – not everyone understands it – but ‘micro-comms’ and streams of valuable insight keep everyone on the same page.



      • Oh, absolutely. I think social business technology can enrich collaboration in a way we were simply not able to achieve before. It’s a wonderful addition to the collaboration tool set. And I believe there has been research that found that it strengthened trust in geographically spread teams. Face-to-face and social business technology is definitely not either-or, it’s and-and.

  2. Thank you for the post. A nice disruption from my current topic.

    I work in a remote environment and I commuicate via phone, skype, e-mail etc. It mostly works well for me and I would not like to go back the traditional method of sitting in an office.

    Sometimes though, I need to meet my colleagues, to build trust and get their buy in, but also to understand their point of view. Looking someon into their eyes, seeing subtel facial expression is so important when gauging the other person ‘s feelings. I feel, when anything critical needs to be discussed, that can only be done well face to face. And may be that is what happened here.

    • Hello Anke – its good to hear from you.

      I think you have good experience in this area with your work at the KTN’s.

      The KTN”s are a great example of an information sharing infrastructure but so much value in partnerships is built in the personal interaction and the trust that is built up between individuals BEFORE the digital conversations – hearing others speak at conferences or networking events and then building upon that open disclosure in a relationship.I like your point that we need to ‘feel’ comfortable in the richness of an exchange and that comes from face-to-face time.

      So connecting and aligning in real life is a key stage for many of us.

      I wander if this is the case for millennials and ‘digital natives’ – either way – we need to think of others needs not just our own preferences – its part of managing diversity – to accommodate and understand each others needs.



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