No More Flex Work? Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

So those who may not know, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced that employees are no longer allowed to telecommute – at all.

I told myself I was going to stay out of it, take a step back, relax for a bit, watch and listen, and see what happens at Yahoo within the next few months and then add my two cents.

However the “implementer of organizational improvements” and organizational development practitioner parts of me just couldn’t bite my tongue any longer. So, here’s my take on the news.

“To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. It is the art of delegation…”Richard Branson

Why this decision deflects the larger issues

I share a similar opinion of Sir Richard Branson – ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

OK, now that my view is abundantly clear, a bit more as to why I not only think denying telecommuting is a horrible idea – but also why I think the decision just deflects from larger organizational issues at Yahoo.

  • Trust: Marissa Mayer is already facing trust issues among her employees. She hasn’t received warm fuzzies from the workforce. If people are already questioning trust in a new leader one sure fire way to perpetuate that feeling is by removing a company perk that helps to build trust. When employees are allowed to telecommute, it shows management has a level of trust in them, that they can get work done and meet goals and deliverables while not in a cube under the watchful eye of the boss. Saying “I must see you so I know you’re not eating bon-bons and watching Days of Our Lives is simply insulting – and one way to help decrease a trusted relationship.
  • Engagement: People are already insulted by Mayer’s attitude, upset with her hiring choices in bringing in outsiders, and unsure of her strategic direction for the company. From a change management perspective, her transition has been managed terribly. It seems Yahoo!took the “Hi, she’s here, she’s gonna do it her way, deal with it” approach to leadership change and transition. This is a deadly approach for maintaining high levels of engagement. In addition, the type of people who work for tech companies like Yahoo! are used to certain perks, besides just free food and foosball.
  • Talent: Much of the talent with technical skills and interest in working for companies like Yahoo are Gen Y and Millennial talent. This generation doesn’t hold the same belief on the necessity of face to face contact, and thus as they are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce, maintaining that type of culture will make it difficult to attract and retain them. One of the biggest ways to engage Gen Y and Millennial talent is to provide a flexible work environment.

Rethinking how we engage with employees

“The flexible work option of telecommuting is only one significant workforce trend, however. With the influx of Gen Y and Millennials in the workforce, corporations are forced to rethink the way they engage with their employees.”  Cisco IT article March 2012, Transforming Employee Engagement

Regardless of what internal statistics may say, this is no way to go about causing positive culture change! It’s no secret that Yahoo is losing the battle with Google, in both profits and innovation.

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I view this entire decision on behalf of Yahoo a ploy to reduce engagement, giving another excuse to force people out or get rid of them – perhaps in an effort to cut costs. The only thing is the good performers may be lost as well, not to mention that leadership also needs to be taking accountability for current issues, not covertly shifting blame in the form of outdated policies.

Although I feel that virtual communication will never be a substitute for face to face communication, it is simply unrealistic in today’s connected and global business world to push for an all-or -nothing approach. Many people don’t just want, but require, flexibility.

In today’s business world, particularly when wonderful technology provides for visual communication and it’s much cheaper, good reasons for denying telecommuting are becoming harder and harder to find.

In addition, I’ve found the most high performing cultures embrace technology and the virtual way of doing business, while still providing basic training on the importance of face to face communication skills – oh yeah, and their leaders also take some personal accountability and actions to improve!

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions, an Organization Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable -- organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business. 

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8 Comments on “No More Flex Work? Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

  1. This is silly. Yahoo’s decision to eliminate telecommuting isn’t a referendum on the idea of telecommuting – it’s a single company’s efforts to eliminate the lack of productivity from an existing set of workers that have been completely mismanaged and as a result, have hurt the bottom line.

    You site the importance of trust in a workplace. No one is going to argue that. But trust goes both ways. It’s certainly critical for employees to trust management, but management also needs be able to trust employees to comply with company policies – something that was clearly not happening with many Yahoo telecommuting employees.

    I find it hard to believe that Marissa Miller disagrees with the tenants of telecommuting when managed properly. But like any new CEO, she’s in a position where she must maximize productivity and the bottom line quickly. Don’t be surprised to see Yahoo allow employees to telecommute again once they re-establish telecommuting management best practices.

    Oh, and using Google as an example of a company that promotes telecommuting is a bit misleading. While they certainly allow telecommuting, they’ve also created a workplace environment so engaging, fun, and productive that employees would rather come to the office. This is intentional. Google knows that face-to-face collaboration is preferable and wants their employees to interact in person.

    1. you might have answered yourself on why Yahoo might be wrong. How engaging is the Yahoo workplace? Are they going after the wrong end of the stick?

  2. The word “entitlement” comes to mind. For crying out loud, telecommuting is not a right. It is nothing more than a perk, and if people are serious about working and succeeding in their field, then they will accept working in a place that actually wants to see who is working for them. If this buries Yahoo, then Yahoo had far more significant problems with their employees than this issue would normally create. People deserve to work, to be happy with their work and their employers, but that means they also have to have reasonable expectations of their employers, just as their employers have to have reasonable expectations of them.

    Coming to the office to work does not strike me as unreasonable by any definition.

  3. Scott: Great read. I agree with the entire premise, however I suspect that there is a method behind Marissa’s “madness” and we don’t know what that is exactly. We can only speculate. Correct that Gen Ys and Millennials communicate in a different way, and I’ll assert that, by and large, it’s ineffective. Perhaps there should be a happy medium? I, for one, believe we must foster effective communication and it has to start with the “youngsters”.

  4. @c188fe95b8924068320781e612278149:disqus I’ve had a similar discussion with others, and I’ll say the same here, without Yahoo releasing an data regarding the impacts of telecommuting prior to the change, and then some time after it is implemented, we will never know if telecommuting did in fact have such a negative impact on productivity. Therefore, my points are based on numerous past research, showing no direct link between telecommuting and lost productivity. Many studies in fact showing the opposite. This is also not a personal attack on Marissa and I’m not of the camp the the policy change is making working mothers look bad either. @verticalelevation:disqus Thank you, and I agree. This is an emotional issue for many. I’m sure the decision was motivated by something – however unless they make that “something” known the negative backlash will continue – with or without organizational context and data to support the change such as some of what I provided. @eb0c0f0cf4bce6f3f4a4e9560e9ace6e:disqus I don’t find it an unreasonable request at all, what I do find unreasonable is doing away with it entirely as it then no longer becomes a request, but a mandate. People don’t respond well to those. Time will tell how this impacts Yahoo talent.

  5. In my humble opinion…. Why not manage people according to their productivity and hold their leaders accountable for it? Removing telecommuting doesn’t fix a lack of productivity or ingenuity, it simply trades the accountability of managers and leaders from results to “where are my people and have they put in their 40 hours”. If they’re not productive sitting on their couch or in their home office, why will they be more productive sitting in your office? Unless they’re actually sitting IN your office and you’re managing their time minute by minute…. Call it radical – but why not focus on whether or not people are meeting goals, contributing in productive ways rather than how many hours they put in and whether they’re surfing the internet instead of working? If an employee contributes more in 30 hours than I expect or need from him, does the lack of 10 hours make him a less valuable employee, or his contributions less meaningful?

  6. @ere-1bd2caf96a17d892c2c7e9959549cfc7:disqus you raise an excellent point! Leadership accountability or lack there of, is a huge issue these days. Leaders need to be accountable themselves and serve as models, and they need to not only be accountable to customers, but also to employees. That’s way I manage my business, when appropriate. I don’t count hours for full time employees, and I don’t base their value on how many of those hours they spend within an ear shot and birds eye view of me. I base their value on their contributions and performance. Majority of my vendors and strategic partners have a similar approach. Even the large Fortune 500 companies I work with are scaling back on “hoteling” and office space and enhancing their clarity and messaging regarding day one expectations and and adjusting performance management processes.

  7. Smart CEOs know how to unlock productivity and innovation. They also know how to manage the Employer Brand. Marissa Mayer could have managed to get employees to be more productive without ncessarily damaging the brand in the marketplace. Now she has twice as many issues- people leaving because this policy doesn’t work for them, inability to attract talent because this policy adds a new dimension to why they might not want to consider Yahoo! The whole thing could have been much better managed…

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