Friday, March 22, 2013

Remote Working and Yahoo: An Either/Or Decision in aBoth/And World

It's been a while, but I'm not dead yet! Just resting. Ha!

The media has been all over Marissa Meyer (CEO of Yahoo) for deciding to recall remote workers back to the office. This is in an effort to promote collaboration and innovation. We'll see.

Marissa Meyer has a very tough job on her hands.  She joined a company that was/is in trouble.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle (SF Gate, July 20, 2012)), Yahoo is faced with “declining quarterly revenue and market share, a downtrodden workforce, and a dearth of talent within its depleted engineering corps.” They quote former Yahoo manager Michael Smith who wrote on his blog a few months ago, “Yahoo could easily cut 20 to 25 percent of its staff without actually cutting much of its capabilities.” And so, Meyer’s move, as suggested by some observers, is in part an attempt at stealth layoffs. Some remote workers will choose not to return to the office. 

Unfortunately this ‘back to the office’ decision is very heavy handed. Although there are conflicting reports,  it seems to be an all or nothing decision. It will be interesting to see if it is sustainable in the freewheeling culture of Silicon Valley.  Yahoo already has a reputation as “a dreary place to work” (SF Gate), and if work flexibility is taken away, the likelihood of top talent being attracted to the company is somewhat slim.

This is not to say that remote working in Yahoo wasn’t in need of a radical makeover.  According to a source who spoke to Business Insider:

·         Yahoo has a huge number of people who work remotely – people who just never come in

·         Many of these people “weren’t productive”

·         A lot of people hid. There were all these employees [working remotely] and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo

These statements don’t paint a pretty picture, but it is the design and management of the program that is to blame, not remote working itself.  It’s well proven that remote working has many benefits for both organizations and employees, but it needs to be managed carefully.  Not every employee is mature enough to work outside the office and be accountable, and not every manager has the skill set to make it work efficiently and effectively.  Remote working is not an either/or issue.

I asked a neighbor of mine (a remote worker for a US bank) how well she thought she was managed.  Here is what she said (in bullet form):

·         It’s very rare for my manager to contact me

·         His communications are always vague and sloppy

·         He gives me no feedback

·         He makes me feel marginalized, that I’m not really part of the company

I suspect that there is an epidemic of bad management when it comes to remote working. Gary Griffiths – a SVP at Cisco – says, “They opened up the flood gates on remote work without fully understanding the impact on management.”  Banning remote working in Yahoo will not solve its problems.  Face time is not a remedy for slacking or for promoting better collaboration.  Better management of remote working will not establish a culture of innovation, but it would be a positive step forward.