February 23, 2013

Going Forward to the Past: Management Yahooliganism & No Longer Working From Home

yahooMy jaw dropped when I read it.

Thanks to an internal memo leaked to Kara Swisher by a Yahoo employee, we have insight into a recent decision by their C-Suite. Taking a page from “we liked it better when we physically saw you hammering keystrokes on your laptop” the struggling company (bada Bing?) has mandated any Yahoo employee currently working from home (full-time or on occasion) must relocate their fingers and keystrokes back to the office by June. That’s right … if a Yahoo employee was able to work from home, it’s no longer in the employee contract.

I call it ‘management yahooliganism‘.

The memo itself was penned by Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s Head of Human Resources. I’ve no idea whether Jackie (and CEO Marissa Mayer) have a hate on for life-work balance or whether they  have been watching reruns of TV dramas from the 1970’s, but it screams naïvety and a definitive lack of trust with their employees.

It’s management yahooliganism.

Three lines irked me greatly in this memo missive:

  1. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
    • Perhaps Jackie doesn’t believe in research but if she walked down the street to Stanford University, she could have chatted with Nicholas Bloom et al who actually proved this statement wrong in their paper “Does Working From Home Work?”
    • “Home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment). Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover.”
    • The C-Suite might want to read a recent post of mine as well, “I Am A Corporate Floater
  2. “If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps.”
    • This says a lot to me about the culture that is being (re)created at Yahoo. Instead of connecting and considering options directly with employees, this unilateral decision has been made, seemingly left to management to inform (and fire?) employees who don’t comply.
    • Talk about a culture killer … although it does map back nicely to ‘command and control’ doesn’t it?
    • The C-Suite would be wise to read Chapter 8 of Flat Army – the Collaborative Leader Action Model
  3. “for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.”
    • In an official memo such as this, why are we resorting to stereotypes like ‘the cable guy‘?
    • Shame on Yahoo (and HR in particular) for stooping to such lows; an obvious bad attempt at official communication humour that does nothing to help build culture

It’s management yahooliganism. It’s one organization I’ll never work for … and after writing this, it’s perhaps one I’ll never be able to speak at either.

12 Replies to “Going Forward to the Past: Management Yahooliganism & No Longer Working From Home”

  1. I may have a greed with you a few years ago, I don’t think this move by Yahoo! is as crazy as you might think.
    They are in the process of turning around a major bureaucratic corporate culture that has stalled. I would guess this is one way they will refresh the talent pool without major layoffs.

    And for those employees still motivated enough to stay on board for the new opportunities, they must be together in the same space to move quickly. I don’t care how great technology is, you can’t beat the value of working face to face with your peers.
    Once the dead weight is let go, and the new direction is defined and in process I’m sure they will let telecommuting begin again.

  2. I think the 3rd item is very telling. I’ve worked for a number of bosses who interpreted flexible work styles from their past flexible options available to senior management. For example, if they had something pressing (like a child’s soccer tournament) to attend, then it was a ‘work from home day’. This was common practice because senior management doesn’t take time off for overtime and overtime is expected to meet deadlines. So when the working from home option is applied to other levels of staff, they can’t help but think that you aren’t working. Rather, you’re babysitting (your own kid), attending a dance recital, or waiting for the repair guy, because that’s what they did when they worked from home. Then there’s the control freaks who just need to see heads regardless of their productivity.

  3. Dan, I’m on the same page with you. This move communicates a lot (negative) about senior management’s attitudes and it sounds like particularly bad timing: “We need your help turning things around so we’re going to start taking worklife benefits away.”

    “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

    Not sure I can agree with you, Brent. I’ve been through a number of layoffs, executed a few, and it’s often your best people who leave. They typically feel like they have more options and will choose to look for a more positive culture.

  4. The one item that is hard to deny is the rise in productivity, engagement and wellness associated with mobile or at home working. My outside view is that ‘your management’ is short-sightedly taking a short cut by instituting a blanket poilcy rather than performance managing those who may not be as productive as desired/needed/assumed.

    I’ll also agree with Rick, it is more likely that top employees will leave given the style in which this has occurred in addition to the details.

  5. Interesting comment, Brad.

    My thoughts after reading the Jostle post: “Maybe. Hope so.”

    I was particularly struck by the statement, “Marissa and her team no doubt understand that they need to lead Yahoo out of cultural bankruptcy.” That is a hard thing to do. The proof will be in the pudding.

    1. I agree Rick, repairing a sick culture is so, so hard. That’s what we do for a living — help companies connect their people and drive their culture, so I have huge respect for the leadership challenge in play here.

      For me, the proof is in taking stands like Marissa has done here. Kodak was in a similar state when I left ship — no one stood up there.


  6. Great comments everyone … refreshing, to say the least.

    I’m personally (and further) anguished by this decision as it seems binary … as if the pendulum needed to be swung from one approach to another in one pass.

    What about introducing something like ‘Yahoo Balance’ … or similar in nature.

    Why mandate everyone back to the office? Why not invoke ‘Yahoo Balance’ where three days must be spent in the office and two days at home; and it’s the team or project or department or business unit’s ’empowered’ decision to sort out how that happens.

    Why five days in a row?

    I too am not a fan of a 100% work from home strategy; but to go from said strategy (and culture) to a 100% work from the office strategy seems counter intuitive to culture building as it does to the very point they are making about ‘collaboration’.

    You can’t force collaboration; it is only enabled by a healthy and empowered culture.

  7. Agree with Dan 100%, there is a moment when we need to be physically closer for better team work and moments to be alone to better concentration on the personal responsibilities. So, a combination of the two (2+3; 3+2 or 1+7, whatever) could provide more advantage for moral and for productivity. Even considering the “cultural crisis” and the need to bring all people to the same place to see and to talk face-to face, however “why in row” and why for an undetermined period? Not sure how long it will take? I’ve been thought that in the crisis time the first thing leaders to do are to get people’s trust by showing self-confidence and providing clear step-by-step vision of how they would redress the situation.

    @Brad. “an unpopular decision for good reason”. In my opinion, it’s not about being popular or unpopular, it’s about being accepted or not that will or won’t help to conduct the change. It’s about Mayer’s abilities to “sell” this decision to involve and engage people in her transformation strategy.

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