But it is a brilliant piece of management.
Telecommuting makes too much sense to kill. If work is properly defined and if it's properly managed with numbers and online meetings, it saves both sides a ton of money. It can take a worker four hours to dress, get to work, and get home from a job. Those 13 hours become nine -- with an hour for lunch -- when telecommuting. Meanwhile, the company saves space, utilities, and parking costs.
Heck, Mayer herself telecommuted in the months after she joined the company, during the first weeks after the birth of her baby.
But over 15 years Yahoo had become, as one friend writes today, a "Bozo Explosion." No one knows what anyone does, no one knows who's committed to the company and who's mailing it in. Mayer wants to find out. So she put a test in front of her team. Show up. Fight for your place. Let's see who has game, and who has the commitment for the cause. Contrary to some early reports, there are going to be exceptions to this policy.
It's not a case of, as Richard Florida tweets, the stars will leave and the slackers will go to the office to distract one another. Those who come in and slack off will get fired on the spot. Stars who are doing well will be given "other arrangements."
This is more of a wake-up call. Instead of firing people, or even laying them off, Mayer is pushing slackers to quit, and has put in place a way to learn who the slackers are so they can be fired if they don't quit. Before telecommuting became widespread, finding and clearing deadwood was an ongoing process. Now it needs to be done all at once.
It reminds me of what Paul "Bear" Bryant did when he took over at Texas A&M over a half-century ago. He took his bad team to a hell camp and ran off those who lacked commitment. (The movie of that was called "Junction Boys.") It's the stuff of Aggie legend (although, to be fair, the seniors did lose the big game to Rice, my school, 7-6).
A half-generation of managers let Yahoo become bloated and entitled. Everyone who has looked at the company knows that. Marissa Mayer wants to be Bear Bryant, and good luck to her on that.
I'll buy Bear Bryant. Will you?
Disclosure: I am long YHOO.