Lessons from Yahoo Inc.

V Kanchana

V Kanchana

The recent memo issued by Yahoo’s newly appointed CEO, Marissa Mayer, bans its employees from working from home making it mandatory to report physically to office by June this year and if they cannot, then they better resign. Not only many Yahoo employees are hurt by this policy, worldwide, people are guessing reactions of other technology companies and whether such a step is justified especially for the general workforce. According to a recent opinion poll by Washington Business Journal, out of 256 people surveyed, only 41% agree with Yahoo CEO’s choice while 59% strongly disagree.

This clearly indicates that Yahoo may not have done right by going against the democratic choice.

Though Marissa thinks that the change in telecommuting policy would bring employees together and dramatically increase productivity and thinking quotients of its employees but this may be too far from reality.

There is a high probability that in the process of bringing stricter rules for its employees, Yahoo may lose some of the best minds and dedicated workforce, leave alone inflow of fresh talent from the industry.

What would be more alarming to see in the coming days is if this trend started by Yahoo, gets picked up by other technology firms worldwide.

More than men, such decisions would strongly impact the lives of women for whom telecommuting is the only means of earning money in tough economic times. Juggling and balancing work and family is not so easy for every woman as it is for Mayer.

Sensitivity towards employees is essential when it comes to retaining the best class. Just because life has been easy for some does not echo it is the same for others too! Probably this is what Marissa has overlooked. With the rise of economic uncertainty, work-life balance is essential, especially, to women and physically disabled sections of the society.

Despite high education and work experience levels, commuting long distances in polluted environment, managing families and their own self, working in culturally sensitive or disaster prone geographic locations and at the same time producing results at work becomes highly stressful for such sections of the society. In such situations, telecommuting is a boon.

Most companies that believe in retaining their employees introduce telecommuting policies.

However, often the management falls prey to mistrust and starts believing in measuring the employee performance only on the basis of number of hours present in the office (overlooking a very critical factor – gauging actual employee performance over the number of hours present). In reality, often people who telecommute are the ones putting in extra hours at work than their office going counterparts.

For companies like Aetna, a leading US based health insurance company, with an employee workforce of 35,000 people, high employee productivity levels have been achieved primarily by encouraging an employee- friendly telecommuting policy.

Clearly, when it comes to managing remote workers, the key is a strong and sensitive management team that understands its employees’ motivation levels and their potential to perform from a remote place. In most cases, it is not the remote workers who are unproductive but the management working with them.

Even in tough times, companies can surely come up with a more balanced approach in crisis situations like that being faced by Yahoo currently.

Instead of completely banning telecommuting, occasional face to face interactions or video conferencing can be a viable option both for the telecommuters as well as the company. Cloud technology, document sharing, video conferencing, collaborative workspaces and even the internet would be a waste if these cannot be put to the benefit of improving the lives of so many people world over who feel blessed each day for the opportunity they get by working from home.

It is a wait and watch show as to how other firms react to Yahoo in the present business environment.

Whatever be it, having a nursery next to the office might be a good planning for the Yahoo CEO but creating havoc in the minds of people, especially, her own workforce, might not be a good idea to establish herself as a role model in the eyes of other women.

Kanchana VAuthor: V Kanchana

Senior Marketing Analyst

RMS India

LinkedIn

Comments

  1. Great post. It will be interesting to see what happens after June. With 6 out of 10 employees “strongly disagree”.

  2. What’s been lost for many people is the issue Mayer apparently was facing: a culture that needed to be changed and a less-than-steller work ethic. From what I’ve read, this was done after reviewing data from the company’s VPN to see how much “work” (connectivity) was going on and she wants the troops all together for the transformation.

    While I generally support the option for certain people to work from home in certain jobs, this was a different situation. My understanding is that the ban was fairly widely welcomed inside Yahoo (and misunderstood outside the company). My guess is that this is a temporary move (6-24 months is my hunch) and that telecommuting will be reintroduced in the future once the issues are resolved. Time will tell.