National Telework Week came to an end on March 8 but this important conversation about workplace flexibility must continue. Based on recent events, I contend that now is not the time to argue with CEOs Marissa Mayer or Hubert Joly about the relationship between autonomy and creativity or to cite the archival literature that links culturally embedded flexibility with productivity, profitability, health or any other desirable outcomes, because they aren't listening. I believe our time and influence will be better spent by taking this opportunity to open up dialogue about the important (albeit uncomfortable) issues raised by the odd behavior we've seen behind the corporate curtain:
• Management training has been a casualty of the Great Recession, although it was on the decline before then. Yahoo's business woes demonstrate the ill effects of not providing specialized training to managers and employees. Telework is a power tool not to be placed in the hands of do-it-yourselfers without training and safety guidelines.
• The assumption that women leaders or young leaders of either gender are innately more sympathetic to the work-life premise is questionable. In my experience, the higher placed the woman, the more she has given up to be perceived as "one of the guys." And we are still waiting for convincing evidence that people of Gen X or Y behave significantly differently than their elders when given large allocations of power and money.
• In my opinion, the most disturbing thing Marissa Mayer has done has nothing to do with reeling everyone back into the office. That's been done before, yes, even during the tenure of other women CEOs (Carly Fiorino at HP comes to mind). The surprise to me is the revelation that Ms. Mayer believes that infants should be with their mothers at work. But only hers. The discordant note here is that no one on staff apparently advised her to expand (or at least talk about expanding) on-site childcare for others instead of spending money on setting up a nursery-for-one next to her own office. This self-indulgent behavior speaks volumes about what might be ailing Yahoo beyond the C-suite. Although there's nothing new about CEO's being woefully out of touch with the life events being navigated by everyone else in their workforce, this level of disregard for others is unprecedented. Where is the HR team, whose function it is to optimize employee engagement and motivation? Can they really be comfortable recalling everyone to the office, potentially doing some damage to the childcare arrangements of others while coddling the offspring of a queen bee?
• The obvious lack of integration between people and business strategy has not served Yahoo well. The cultural transformation that Ms. Mayer is seeking to bring about argues for world-class expertise that may not be entirely resident. Fortunately, the journey she is on has been well-traveled and there are many relevant models and best practices available to press into service. We at Alliance for Work-Life Progress serve as a resource, wish her luck, and will be watching with interest as events unfold.