Annemarie van Gaal: Back to the office

Sad, empty office spaces and a lack of commitment, is that the new way of working? Maybe Marissa Mayer has a point, says Annemarie van Gaal


I see where Yahoo’s new CEO is coming from. Last week, Marissa Mayer demanded that her colleagues come to the office as usual. Flexible hours and working from home will become a thing of the past. From now on, Yahoo workers report to head office.

This caused an uproar among Yahoo employees who thought flexible hours and working remotely had become rights. Even Virgin Group founder Richard Branson waded in saying he thought Mayer showed a lack of confidence in her staff because these days people are perfectly capable of carrying out their duties ‘without supervision’.


A few weeks ago I had a meeting at Nationale Nederlanden in The Hague. An assistant came to reception and took me to one of the floors. I walked with her along an endless row of empty office spaces. Every once in a while we passed a deserted meeting room which, judging from the profusion of cardboard boxes, was now used for storage. That corridor never seemed to end. I must have passed at least twenty or thirty workspaces and there was no one. I did not see one single person sitting there, working.

During my meeting I stared across the street to the Siemens building. I could make out some stacked office chairs and odds and ends but there was no sign of any human activity. I remarked on this and was told: ‘You do see some people there sometimes. But do you see the Deloitte building across the street? They’re only using half the number of floors now, the rest have been closed off. Look.’ I was flabbergasted. ‘Really?’ ‘It’s the new way of working, isn’t it?’ came the resigned answer.

Sequoia Lodge

I once got lost on my way to a meeting. The company buildings had all sorts of exotic names and were connected by means of wooded paths. When I finally found ‘Sequoia Lodge’ I had to circle it three times before I could attract someone’s attention and get in. He didn’t know where it was that I was expected; he was hardly ever there himself, he said.

The new way of working has advantages: it’s nice that someone answers my mail or phone call at night. But it has disadvantages too. I have no idea when someone is on the spot or not: ‘No, he’s not here today, he’s working from home’ you are told and then you spend the whole day trying to get in touch with this person, usually in vain.

Not all workers like to work from home. In another company I know of they would love to go back to the office but that is now impossible. The management has cut back the number of office spaces to one for every three full-time jobs and you have to be a very early bird indeed if you want to bag one of the last remaining spaces.


Those who arrive too late have to go home. ‘I miss guidance’, they say. They used to have a meeting with their manager every fortnight but now he is never there either, they have to confer by phone.

That is the new way of working. I think we’ve lost the plot. We never meant for everybody to work remotely and lose their commitment to the company. The best ideas come up during a chat around the coffee machine. According to Marissa Mayer the physical presence of staff is going to make her company stronger. It’s an interesting experiment. I will be watching with interest.


Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepereneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality

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