Yahoo! Denying Employees Telecommuting – What’s the Real Reason?


So those who may not know, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced that employees are no longer allowed to telecommute – at all.  I told myself I was going to stay out of it, take a step back, relax for a bit, watch and listen, and see what happens at Yahoo! within the next few months and then add my two cents. However the “implementer of organizational improvements” and organizational development practitioner parts of me just couldn’t bite my tongue any longer…so my take on the news…

“To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. It is the art of delegation…” – Richard Branson

I share a similar opinion of Sir Richard BransonARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

Ok, now that my view is abundantly clear, a bit more as to why I not only think denying telecommuting is a horrible idea – but also why I think the decision just deflects from larger organizational issues at Yahoo!

Trust: Mayer is already facing trust issues among her employees.  She hasn’t received warm fuzzies from the workforce. If people are already questioning trust in a new leader one sure fire way to perpetuate that feeling is by removing a company perk that helps to build trust. When employees are allowed to telecommute, it shows management has a level of trust in them, that they can get work done and meet goals and deliverables while not in a cube under the watchful eye of the boss. Saying – I must see you so I know you’re not eating bon bons and watching Days of Our Lives is simply insulting – and one way to help decrease a trusted relationship.

Engagement: People are already insulted by Mayer’s attitude, upset with her hiring choices in bringing in outsiders, and unsure of her strategic direction for the company.  From a change management perspective, her transition has been managed terribly. It seems Yahoo! took the “Hi, she’s here, she’s gonna do it her way, deal with it” approach to leadership change and transition. This is a deadly approach for maintaining high levels of engagement. In addition, the type of people who work for tech companies like Yahoo! are used to certain perks, besides just free food and foosball.

Talent: Much of the talent with technical skills and interest in working for companies like Yahoo! are Gen Y and Millennial talent. This generation doesn’t hold the same belief on the necessity of face to face contact, and thus as they are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce, maintaining that type of culture will make it difficult to attract and retain them. One of the biggest ways to engage Gen Y and Millennial talent is to provide a flexible work environment.

“The flexible work option of telecommuting is only one significant workforce trend, however. With the influx of Gen Y and Millennials in the workforce, corporations are forced to rethink the way they engage with their employees.”

 – Cisco IT Article March 2012, Transforming Employee Engagement

Regardless of what internal statistics may say, this is no way to go about causing positive culture change! It’s no secret that Yahoo! is losing the battle with Google, in both profits and innovation. I view this entire decision on behalf of Yahoo! a ploy to reduce engagement, giving another excuse to force people out or get rid of them – perhaps in an effort to cut costs. The only thing is the good performers may be lost as well, not to mention that leadership also needs to be taking accountability for current issues, not covertly shifting blame in the form of outdated policies.

Although I feel that virtual communication will never be a substitute for face to face communication, it is simply unrealistic in today’s connected and global business world to push for an all or nothing approach. Many people don’t just want but require flexibility. In today’s business world, particularly when wonderful technology provides for visual communication and it’s much cheaper, good reasons for denying telecommuting are becoming harder and harder to find. In addition, I’ve found the most high performing cultures embrace technology and the virtual way of doing business, while still providing basic training on the importance of face to face communication skills – oh yeah, and their leaders also take some personal accountability and actions to improve!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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  1. Sujith Kattathara

    March 6, 2013
    / Reply

    Dear Scott

    While I do not wholeheartedly agree on Marissa's approach of taking out the Work-from-Home facility, I do wonder - what were the drivers for Marisa taking this dramatic decision?

    I have read that Marissa is a big believer of metrics-based management, so I guess this decision of hers had something to do with Organizational Productivity (or the lack of it, specifically when compared to some Industry standards).

    The second driver is something that you have already mentioned - That Yahoo! is falling behind Google.

    If Yahoo! is truly in need of improving its productivity, then an answer lies right there.

    In any case, with the inadequate insights that I have into the business imperatives at Yahoo, I would not venture to form a firm opinion on what forced Marissa into this decision, and whether it was the appropriate one. However, I do agree with you that it has an emotional impact that possibly Marissa has not planned for.

  2. Scott

    March 12, 2013
    / Reply

    Good points, I'm all about data, as I hear so is Marissa. That said, unless Yahoo releases data pre policy change showing productivity decline linked to telecommuting, and then shows data post policy change showing direct performance improvements...we may never know.

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