Learning to trust is one of leadership’s most difficult tasks

Steve Boese Bad HR, Benefits, Change, Culture, HR, Leadership, Steve Boese

(Note: Apologies in advance to any other FOT’ers that want to take on this topic – I’d say go ahead, there are bound to be lots of conflicting opinions, and mine are not any smarter than anyone else’s).

From time to time there are workplace related news items that rise to the level of ‘HR/Talent required blog fodder’, and the recent announcement from Yahoo that effective in June they are eliminating working from home (or telework or flexible working arrangements -call it what you like), and will begin requiring that all employees work out of a company location. Estimates vary, but reports have indicated this will affect about 800 – 1,000 employees out of a total of around 12,000 Yahoos. 

From the details of the actual policy change letter penned by Yahoo’s Chief HR officer Jackie Reses, (but being interpreted as an edict directly from the new CEO Marissa Meyer for HR to carry out), the change is being explained as a move to increase collaboration and communication; and also to improve speed and quality.  Here is the important paragraph of the leaked internal email from Ms. Reses to the Yahoo staff: (courtesy of AllThingsD)

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

The memo continues on to explain the next steps, (essentially if you are one of the remote workers you need to figure out pretty fast how to be ‘un-remote’), and how the rest of the employees shouldn’t worry if they have to spend the odd morning at home waiting for the ‘cable guy’, just make sure you keep in in check – in the spirit of collaboration that is.

As you’d probably expect most of the reaction to Yahoo’s decision to end remote working arrangements has been met disapprovingly across the web.  The negative reactions to the policy change are all pretty much the same, and fall into the same few broad arguments:

1. The nature of work is changing, and people’s personal lives and work lives are no longer as clearly delineated as in the past. For many, remote work makes managing all of life’s demands much easier.

2. People are (and some studies have shown), more productive, actually work more hours, and are happier overall if they can work remotely

3. The best talent might not be able to ‘physically be together’ in an office – they live nowhere near a company location, or they have other personal reasons that make traditional office work not possible or practical.

4. An assortment of practical things – reduced real estate and facilities costs, less consumption of gas, less time (mostly unproductive and highly frustrating time) spent commuting, etc.

5. A violation of some kind of implied ‘deal’ with these remote workers. The argument is many probably would not have taken the job at Yahoo without the remote work arrangement, and now they’ve been betrayed.

To be fair, there is also some support for this policy change too, much of it falling into these buckets:

1. Yahoo is a mess, the Board hired Meyer to turn things around and this is just a part of that process. Lots of folks think Yahoo needs to continue to reduce headcount anyway.

2. Software development and new product creation are by nature highly collaborative processes, neither work as well when teams are not co-located

3. (this is the one I think you see the most, and is most depressing). No one working from home is really ‘working’, they are shuttling kids around to school or the doctor, watching TV, or otherwise goofing off. Work is work and home is home. Shut up and get your butt to the office or find another job.

No matter where you come down on the opinion spectrum on this policy change, the possibility that it will resonate more widely, and be adopted by more organizations as a sensible and practical business decision is what seems to have many commentators in a tizzy. For me, the possibility that the example set by a new and young CEO in a very visible and high-tech company, (admittedly one that has seen better days. I email back and forth with about 1,000 people, I can think of exactly ONE that uses a Yahoo Mail account), will create some kind of massive ‘everybody at their desks’ movement across many industries seems, well pardon the pun – remote.

I’ll end this (too long) piece by throwing it out to you FOT Nation to share your comments and thoughts about Yahoo’s decision to end remote work, and even the future of remote work in general.

Is Yahoo making a bad decision?

If you were CEO, would you encourage or at least permit remote work?

Do you work remotely now?

I will even get you started with my initial thought – CEO Meyer must think that Yahoo is so poor at managing for performance that the only way she can try to exert some control is to walk the halls or cube farms or whatever they have there – and look upon a sea of heads ‘physically being together’.

What say you?