2013: Year of working in the office or else...

So there’s been a lot of news going around about Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban Yahoo employees from working remotely with opinions both agreeing and disagreeing with that decision. Whichever side you are on this decision has resulted in a huge reaction and I thought I’d share my own thoughts on this.

Return to the office!

As summed up in the image above. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tells her employees to return to work – the office – and then everyone out there starts wondering why! There could be many reasons why Mayer has taken this decision. I liked Scott Hanselman’s breakdown in his post Being a Remote Worker Sucks – Long Live the Remote Worker which I’ve snapped below.

I see this ban on Remote Work at Yahoo as one (or all) of these three things:

*1)A veiled attempt to trim the workforce through effectively forced attrition by giving a Sophie’s Choice to remote workers that management perceives as possibly not optimally contributing. It’s easy to avoid calling it a layoff when you’ve just changed the remote work policy, right? *

*2) A complete and total misstep and misunderstanding of how remote workers see themselves and how they provide value. *

3) Pretty clear evidence that Yahoo really has no decent way to measure of productivity and output of a worker.

Of course no one will really know exactly why Mayer has taken this decision that way and everyone will speculate in different ways, however time will tell. As you will read in Scott’s post he has been working remotely for a long time. Imagine if he were working at Yahoo what this decision would’ve done to his daily life! For that reason I wish to think that for Yahoo it’s not the case of what Scott mentions in his #2 point above. Being a large Silicon Valley company I assume that Yahoo understands remote workers.

With that assumption in mind we are left with point #1 & #3 to deal with, both of which are closely related. If it were the case that remote employees were not optimally contributing then perhaps it is fair for Mayer to just chop them all off by changing policy to avoid calling it a layoff. However, there is no way that all yahoo’s remote employees fall into that category! Physical location can be a barrier for some companies attracting top talent and in this day and age you’d think available technology facilitates bridging those barriers so that non-local top talent have the ability to work for these companies. I doubt in this case that Yahoo would cut such people off just to avoid having any employees working from home and not delivering.

This brings me to the last point in what Scott has mentioned – point #3 – regarding measuring productivity of remote employees. In my view, this is likely the issue Yahoo is facing at the moment, with no effective ways in place to monitor employee productivity they have no choice but to keep a close eye on what everyone is doing and the way to do that is to bring everyone to arm’s length.

Even though this seems like the only logical explanation to that ban decision, it’s still hard to believe. Employee productivity is tied to employee morale and with this decision there is guarantee that the morale of those impacted by this decision – provided they stay in the company of course – will be negatively affected. I doubt that Yahoo would want to lose it’s star remote performers just to ensure that they squeeze the most out of those who under perform remotely. Not to mention the potential cascading effect when employees start to leave!

So going back to the third point, if Yahoo is really struggling to measure employee productivity for remote employees what should they do?

Here are some thoughts:

1) Ensure that they have in place tools that allow teams to communicate & collaborate efficiently together, if other companies can facilitate that it’s hard to see that the future Yahoo cant!

2) Put processes in place to allow better visibility of work done by remote workers. This depends on the structure of the teams of course but there are definitely ways to make this happen. Scott’s post mentioned some.

I haven’t yet been in a manager’s or executive’s shoes so I probably see things a bit differently. However, it surprises me quiet a lot that in a lot of work places the chain of command is only a one-way channel. Sometimes you run into situations where decisions are made for you without your consultation such as how long a piece of work should take when you are the one doing the work and many other examples of similar things, I’m not saying that you get to make all the decisions here but a person’s view should be considered if they’re going to be the ones doing the work. If you want someone to be productive and deliver value to you, wouldn’t it make sense to actively engage them in the work they are meant to do? Or is forcing things down their throats the way to go? I think the keyword here is *
engagement*. *

If you’re employee has an opinion, listen to it, those in the field of work are* usually right a lot and listening to them early can save problems later. Make your employees feel important – even if you don think they are – and they will be important!* If you think they have no place in one area of work, tell them why, get them to suggest how they can change it or where they best see themselves fit – be transparent. If you engage them it’s much easier to hold them accountable for their actions – if they’re quality they’ll be challenged, they’ll deliver, if not then not – , you can then monitor their performance on that basis and if they don’t deliver then whose to blame but them!