Skip to main content

What Mayer misses on work-life balance

By David Weinberger, Special to CNN
March 2, 2013 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, attends the 2013 session of the World Economic Forum on January 25.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, attends the 2013 session of the World Economic Forum on January 25.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Weinberger: Mayer shows arrogance to require Yahoo workers to come in
  • If you've signed on for telecommuting, banning it is like a firing and rehiring, he says
  • Mayer signals Yahoo is desperate, he says, but it conveys disdain for workers
  • Weinberger: She seems unaware how important "place" is to an ordinary person's life

Editor's note: David Weinberger is a senior researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and author of "Too Big to Know" (Basic Books).

(CNN) -- Much as I love the Internet — and I love it thiiiiiiiis much! — it is not a physical space.

And no factor so directly and causally affects us as our physical space.

The temperature in your room determines which drawers you'll open when you're choosing your clothes. The location of your stove determines where you'll cook. The distance to the front door determines the magnitude of the interruption when someone knocks. The fact that stores are away from our homes explains entire concepts like "errands." Half of what I find annoying in life is due to things not being near me when I want them. The space we're in is deeply determinative of the lives we lead.

David Weinberger
David Weinberger

So, when a CEO says that I can't work at home any more, it's very much like being fired from one job and hired for another without anyone asking if I agree to the deal.

CEO right: Yahoo workers must show up

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



For me, this is ultimately the arrogance of Marissa Mayer's mandate that Yahoo employees can no longer work from home.

Which is a way of saying that I want to skip two other arguments.

The first is about whether letting people work from home is good or bad for a business. I think we all agree that physical proximity breeds an intimacy that online connections cannot, and it enables sustained creative development that online interactions inhibit.

Policy riles workers everywhere

Yahoo: Work in the office or quit
Was Marissa Mayer out of line?
Yahoo ends telecommuting

Except we don't all agree. For instance, I don't. I've worked at home for many years over the past couple of decades, and I don't believe I always work better in an office. After all, the main point of space is to keep things apart, whereas the Net only exists as a set of connections. And the Net as a social platform is getting so sophisticated that for many sorts of ideas at many stages of development, it makes the real world look like a big box of 404s. (Disclosure: I work in an office with hugely creative people and enjoy it.)

Slightly more scientifically: The research data on this topic are hard to generalize from. For example, studies that show that dispersed coding teams work more slowly may simply be an indication that these dispersed teams need better tools or management. And perhaps in particular circumstances a balanced approach — Together Tuesdays! — might work.

Why the interest in Yahoo CEO?

So, that's the first argument I don't want to have. At least not here.

Who works from home and how they do it

The second is about whether Marissa Mayer is a hypocritical, entitled, privileged, spoiled 1%'er because she gets to bring her infant to work with her. The content of her character is irrelevant to whether she's made a good decision. Even entitled 1%'ers are sometimes right. So let's not have that argument either.

Instead I want to ask what sort of decision Mayer has made.

Point No. 1 is where we began: A change in place is one of the most profound changes one can make. Imagine you are working at home and your company gives you the choice of either working 9 to 5 in the office or moving to another state where you will be allowed to telecommute. I personally would have considered moving. Perhaps you wouldn't. But the point is that those two choices are roughly equivalent for many of us. That's how big a deal it is to be told to show up for work every day. It's a big, big deal.

A work-at-home mom defends Yahoo's Mayer

Point No. 2 is that Mayer clearly has issued this edict to send a signal. Otherwise, she would have announced that Yahoo is going to re-evaluate the work-at-home folks on an individual basis. If your job passes the test, congrats, you can stay in your bathrobe. But requiring everyone to show up all the time is a signal expressed as a policy.

The problem is that if you send a signal by, say, firing off a flare, you're supposed to aim the flare well over the heads of the folks in the lifeboat. If you aim it at them and set some of them on fire, it's not a signal any more. It's an assault with a bright weapon.

Opinion: Allow Yahoo workers to work at home

So, while Mayer has successfully signaled that Yahoo is desperate, the signal contains other messages, as well. The first message is that she distrusts her employees, and distrusts the Net. The second is that she doesn't understand how important where one works is to an ordinary person's life — not just to the quality of one's life, but to the substance of it. This is odd since she herself has said that for her, family comes before Yahoo. Third, she has signaled that sending signals is her idea of substance.

Bad signals. Especially since to the recipients, they are not signals but wrenching changes in what is the most important element of our lives: our place.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Weinberger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT