Yet another post about The Yahoo Event
Everyone is all a buzz with the news of Yahoo’s HR head Marissa Mayer telling all of their telework employees to return to the office or find another job. The Yahoo Event, as I like to call it after all of the attention it has gotten, is quite likely primarily a management issue and not a commentary on the entire history and future of working remotely. The pundits are all over the place with their opinions on whether this is the end of an era or a huge mistake, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
In the best performing companies, senior management has a clear direction and is able to communicate their value proposition so that employees can make independent decisions that will contribute to an overall goal. This is important with a colocated workforce but even more essential with a remote workforce. It is also important that middle management be transparent, so that what happens and is communicated to them from the top flows through to the employees and vice versa. On top of this, performance criteria and reviews have to be clear and rigorous in order to ensure that employees are contributing in a meaningful way that drives behavior towards the company’s overall goals…and that rarely happens in any company, much less one that is unclear about what its mission is. In the murky world of Yahoo’s unsure vision and mission, teleworking has no hope of functioning well.
Because Yahoo is struggling financially, there are also two other very practical reasons for Marissa Mayor to do this. Any company in this predicament will first tighten up their staffing and then work to get more productivity out of the staff they have. In order to reduce unnecessary staff, you could do layoffs without actually doing layoffs, by putting restrictions in place that might cause some staff to opt out, for instance by removing the telecommute option. There will be a certain number of staff that will choose not to return to the office and instead go looking for another job. I don’t know this for a fact but if Yahoo has been smart about it, there may have been some side conversations with true high performer / high potential employees to make sure that this did not unduly drive them away, perhaps even some off-record exceptions to the rules.
Then there is the effort to get more productivity out of the employees that you have. Data driven sociometric guru Ben Waber has found that programming code is developed up to 30% faster when engineers are colocated, not necessarily every day or all of the time but enough to build social capitol that allows for people to feel comfortable asking each other for help. The best companies use remote working strategically, not as a blanket perk.
If Yahoo can reduce its unnecessary staff, and get more productivity out of the staff it has, it just might survive. However, if the vision from the top doesn’t get any clearer, bringing employees back in won’t solve the problem.