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Don’t Underestimate Mayer’s Huge Gamble at Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)

Marissa Mayer’s appointment as Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)‘s new CEO looked promising given her past stint at rival powerhouse Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG). However, the recent controversy concerning Mayer’s decision to metaphorically chain Yahooligans to their office desks sounds as un-Googley as it gets. Investors should be aware it could have an adverse effect on the inner workings of the company.

Banning working from home sounds as non-progressive as ideas come, and I don’t believe it will increase productivity at all. Great companies have happy employees, and this “one-size-fits-all” approach should worry Yahoo! shareholders.

Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)

Different strokes for different folks

Underlining the reality disconnect of this move is the fact that there’s no real evidence that working from home causes lost productivity at all . Some individuals really do get more work done in solo settings. Endless in-person meetings that are supposed to encourage “communication and collaboration” as Mayer claims also simply end up wasting time in many cases.

Compelling amounts of research show in-person brainstorming sessions actually don’t work. Many people don’t feel creative in a group setting, and most prefer to feel “right” and go along with the gang more than they like “standing out” with a truly interesting idea. A morning shower is either just as good or a better place to come up with innovative ideas than a conference room and white board.

Jonah Lehrer pointed to psychologist Keith Sawyer’s summation in a New Yorker article last year: “Decades of research has consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

Leaders need to realize that people function differently — to say that there are differences between how extroverts and introverts function is an understatement, for example. There simply won’t be a uniform heightened “productivity” defined by warm bodies in office chairs, and better productivity and ideas garnered this way is a pleasant myth that assumes everyone is the same, not different.

Old-school toxic

Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) certainly could be a fertile ground for workplace negativity, too. For example, survivor guilt can cast one heck of a pall over a company. About this time last year, Yahoo! announced plans to cut 2,000 jobs from its payroll under Mayer’s predecessor Scott Thompson. That was Yahoo!’s sixth swing at mass layoffs in just four years’ time. Keeping the best workers under such circumstances already looked pretty dicey.

My Foolish colleague Sam Cicotello is right to point out that if a company’s culture is a positive one, employees won’t dread the idea of coming into work in the first place. If managements have to mandate such policies, something’s wrong.

So yes, maybe Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)’s culture is so broken that many workers have been avoiding a daily dose of toxic environment. In fact, part of the emerging pro-Mayer argument is that many Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) employees were taking advantage of the perk to do as little work as possible.

Can Mayer’s blanket mandate to coax more face time and productivity out of workers in this manner possibly help morale? I highly doubt it.

In interesting and related news, Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) has just decided to end its once-innovative Results Oriented Work Environment program, or ROWE, on the heels of the Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) announcement. At one time, ROWE was one of the reasons I believed in Best Buy — the retailer’s management could think differently and completely out of the “big box.” I now think Best Buy is a disastrous stock, and one to avoid, and the ROWE decision is just one more reason.

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