Weekly Wrap: How Wrong I Was About Doing Flex Work From Home

I was asked this week what I thought of Yahoo’s decision to end flexible work arrangements for its employees.

Yes, I know; we’ve been inundated this week by everybody and anybody giving their 2 cents on why Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is doing this, and although a lot of the commentary has been good (I’m especially proud of the insights we’ve had here at TLNT from China Gorman, Eric MeyerPaul Rupert, Laurie Ruettimann, and Scott Span), a lot of the media deluge just keeps repeating the same things.

So, at the risk of being redundant, here was my reaction when I was asked this week to comment on what I thought the Yahoo decision really meant:

It’s easy to draw the conclusion that Yahoo putting an end to flexible work arrangements is a turning back of the clock and some sort of statement about the viability of flex work. But I don’t think that’s the case.

From all I have heard — including from some former Yahoo managers who observed this first hand — it’s more about how in all of the upper management turmoil there over the last few years, the monitoring of flex time arrangements had gotten sloppy and hard to handle. Add to that new CEO Marissa Mayer’s experience at Google, where they have more of an all-hands-on-deck work philosophy without a lot of flex work, and you can see that this is more of an issue with flex work at Yahoo given what Mayer is trying to do to revive the company, than anything else.

Flex work is here to stay and it is the smart thing to do for most organizations — just not for Yahoo at this particular point in time.”

When I was told that flexible work wouldn’t work

Full disclosure here: Today, I work from home for a virtual company (ERE Media) in a flexible arrangement. I can rattle off the pros and cons of flex work at the drop of a hat, and although I generally like it, I also miss an office environment and the positives that come from working around other sharp people.

This flex work debate reminds me of a conversation I had back in 1999 when I was hired as Vice President of Editorial (Employee No. 7) at a soon to be well-known San Francisco dotcom that continues to be wrongly held up as a poster child for the excesses of the dotcom era (THAT is another story for another day).

Back then, I had just been hired and was talking with my new CEO about the job, particularly that I would now be living in the San Francisco Bay Area while my family remained in Southern California. I suggested that I might work out of the office four days a week but also work from home on either Monday or Friday to help balance my new job and family responsibilities.

Julie, my new CEO, listened to my pitch and then said something that I remember to this day:

“Oh John,” she said, “we really need to have you here all the time. There are always going to be meetings and other situations that pop up and you need to be here for them. We can’t be worrying about whether you’re around or not. It’s really important that you be here for everything that’s going on, and that won’t happen if you aren’t here all the time with everyone else.”

Sometimes, you need all-hands-on-deck

Yes, she gently told me “No,” and while I accepted it then — after all, I was just getting set to start a new job — at the time, I didn’t really believe her.

Geez, how wrong could I have been?

As I look back on the two-year roller coaster ride that was my experience there during the dotcom era, I have often reflected on how right CEO Julie was to keep me from doing a part-time flex work arrangement. There were many, many meetings and other events that I would not have been involved in had I not been around and in the office.

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I managed to work out the family part of the deal, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that my CEO made me see the bigger picture. I wouldn’t have been as valuable to the company had I worked at home some of the time. And, I would not have had the same career-changing experience there that I treasure so much now.

So, I know how the Silicon Valley tech scene goes. I know what the work ethic is all about. And, I can imagine what Marissa Mayer is dealing with as she tries to get Yahoo really going again.

She needs all-hands-on-deck to turn the company around, and she needs to know what employees are “all in” with her. It’s as simple as that. And despite all the gnashing of teeth about what this decision says to Working Moms, or about flex work as a viable business practice, it’s really pretty simple.

It’s just about what Yahoo needs — right here and right now.

Lots of workers calling in sick

Of course, there’s a lot more than Yahoo’s flex work decision in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Huge number of workers calling in sick. Make what you will of this, but a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that “the call-ins (for illness) last month were the highest than in any month in the last five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 2.9 million people who usually work full time worked only part of the week studied by the bureau either because of their own illness, injury or a medical appointment. An additional 1.2 million didn’t work at all during the period, the bureau reported.”
  • Big bonuses at Boeing. Who cares that Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner jet is grounded worldwide until June with problems that include batteries that keep catching on fire? Yes, that’s a problem, but it didn’t stop Boeing from awarding $624 million in bonuses to 107,000 employees companywide, the Seattle Times reports. The newspaper says that “These white-collar employee bonuses are based on performance targets tied to the company’s financial results for 2012, which triggered payouts of an additional 14.75 days of pay to employees in the commercial airplanes unit and 16 days to those on the defense side. That’s roughly a 6 percent annual bonus.”
  • Union leaders panicking about the NLRB. According to The New York Times The Caucus blog, “The nation’s union leaders are voicing alarm that the National Labor Relations Board might remain paralyzed for a year or more as a result of a federal appeals court ruling that found President Obama’s recess appointments to the board to be unconstitutional … Union leaders on Tuesday called on Mr. Obama to immediately nominate a slate of five members to fill all of the board’s seats. Labor leaders asserted that the court ruling could badly undercut unions because a paralyzed NLRB. would not be able to intervene if employers engaged in unlawful tactics during unionization drives, including illegally firing union supporters or intimidating workers into voting against having a union.”
  • More on getting a “seat a the table.” I know a lot of you are sick of this debate — and frankly, I am too — but Booz & Company has a pretty interesting 90 second video on “Gaining a Stronger Seat at the Table.” It’s worth a look no matter how tired of the discussion you may be.


John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


5 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: How Wrong I Was About Doing Flex Work From Home

  1. Ok this is so unrelated to the story but I still have that pets.com puppet in its box and still love and miss him – the company and its people where so nice -should look them up on linkedin

    1. I have a bunch of the Sock Puppets — even the talking ones. Yes, it infuriates me when I read (I’m talking about you Wall Street Journal) about how Pets.com represents everything that was wrong with the dotcom boom.

      Not only is that a terribly uninformed and lazy comment, but it ignores the fact the Pets.com closed with money in the bank and gave back more than $35 million to investors.

      Plus, we managed to let employees go with a severance package and some dignity instead of what happened far too often back in those days when a dotcom closed — the front door suddenly locked, bounced paychecks, and your personal belongings in a box.

  2. John – thank you. No, really, thank you for cutting through the emotional cloud and looking at the Yahoo! decision for what it was – a difficult but necessary business decision in the overall process of rebuilding the organization. All the other nonsense swirling around was mindboggling.

    I’m not convinced the initial execution was right – but even in that it is hard to say since we lack so much detail about the reorganization plan. I think far too many people got their knickers in a twist because Yahoo! didn’t hew to their (the vocal critics) agenda of a singular aspect of workforce management should be. Uh, so what?
    Marissa Mayer is tasked with reinvigorating Yahoo! This means that what was the norm no longer can or should be the norm. This decision is but a single step in the process. I for one am interested in learning more.

  3. Wow – “big bonuses” really must have changed since the financial crisis, huh? I understand $624 million is a “big” number, but for 107,000 employees? That’s around $5,750 per employee. And as stated, 15 days of payout when there are approximately 250 working days is a 6% bonus. That doesn’t seem all that “big” to me.

    1. Jeez, where do you work that $600 million plus in bonuses doesn’t seem like a big deal? And after years of economic downturn, layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts/freezes, and a lot more work dumped on just about everyone’s plate, a $5,750 bonus would probably be welcomed by just about anyone who isn’t working on Wall Street and getting outrageous compensation.

      Call me crazy, but I’m guessing your view is really in the minority on this one.

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