“Hey, I’m sorry to do this, but I can’t do Nutley tomorrow. I need to take Scarlett to the doctor,” read the text from Kate.
By “Nutley,” she was referring to Nutley, NJ, a fairly central location where we meet up once a week for some in-person time.
“Don’t give it a second thought,” I wrote, knowing full well the stress that lay behind her text, “I hope she’s ok. Thanks.”
Kate and I meet up once a week because our geographic proximity allows it, and because I do think there is value in face-to-face time. With Nancy based in Colorado, it likely won’t be more than a few times a year we get to sit in the same room, though we talk every day (often multiple times), not to mention exchanging a barrage of emails. On days we are all working at our individual locations — Kate and Nancy in their homes, and me in my office, I think we are all tremendously productive.
Think about it — when I was working in NYC every day, I slogged through what was at least a 1.5 hour commute each way, often reaching work exhausted. Now, I can put those reclaimed hours back into my work. With each member of our team enjoying similar efficiencies, we essentially have another person worth of productivity on the payroll. And working remotely has other benefits too, such as fewer interruptions and a reduction of the nonsense stop-by-someone’s-office-and-gossip time that we all know goes on.
We are a lean, mean, remote machine. And that, at a very important level, is my main function, and is the function of any leader or manager — to provide an environment where their team members can be at their best. It’s about what’s best for them, not what’s easiest for me, not about being able to see them from 9-5 so I know they are “working.” The old concept of a factory foreman monitoring his minions as they punch in an out is the stalest of management concepts.
Except, apparently, at Yahoo, where only seeing someone at their desk means believing they’re on the job. About a week ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and the ironically titled EVP of People and Development Jackie Reses decreed that all work-from-home arrangements were cancelled.
Not surprisingly, the email is labeled: “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD.” Of course, one can imagine this held little sway with the dismayed recipients. Reses began with some self-congratulatory talk about the “great benefits” of recently instituted HR programs, like “PB&J.” She then went on to proclaim: “I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices,” after which she summarily diffused it by insulting the work ethic of every remote employee in the company. I suppose Yahoo needed the room.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” The English translation of this, immediately understood by those it affected, was: “We all know you don’t do much at home. You goof off, take a long lunch and probably catch ‘The View.’ Either way, we can’t see you, so we don’t know for sure. That means you better start getting in here like the rest of us. Enjoy the traffic, Yahoos!”
The memo ends on a rah-rah note that irritates infinitely more than it salves: “Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.”
Methinks what’s to come for Yahoo — not to mention the careers of Mayer and Reses — is far from the best. From a leadership point of view, this move seems almost embarrassing, and the result will be turnover. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but the morale of each and every employee affected by the memo (and most who are not) is utterly destroyed. As with all across-the-board edicts of this variety, the humanization, the personalization of the employer-employee relationship, has been eliminated.
Those who have options (the A players) will leave. The rest will stay, infinitely embittered at being treated like children. Do you really think those ordered back to the nest will arrive on day one with energy and buzz in tow, eager to engage in the impromptu, and apparently infinitely beneficial, bull sessions Mayer and Reses anticipate? And how do you think all this will affect Yahoo’s overall performance as an organization?
The solution to all this, and to so much management difficultly, lies in the hiring process. If HR does the job it should and only brings on A players, it will never have to do the type of dirty job Yahoo has just done. A job so bilious, mind you, that no amount of PB&J can make it sweet.