Recently, Yahoo! announced its intention to terminate the working from home of employees, or to terminate the employees who refuse to stop working from home.
The office is a very important factor in the dynamic of co-workers and teammates. There can be a very beneficial social aspect to team building and cohesiveness. (“Can be”). The concept of the office has also provided the blessing of well-loved TV shows and movies (The Office, Office Space, 9 to 5, etc…). On the other hand, it can be a place where gossip is nurtured and politics are focused upon.
Remote work, or work from home jobs (WFH), have been around for quite a while, and they are becoming increasingly more popular across diverse industries as technology progresses. And that not only for low-paying low-skilled-required jobs, but for those needing educated and skilled professionals earning well into six figures. Without personally attacking Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO, I’ll tell you why I think she is wrong but why I think some good can come out of it.
Companies like Bank of America (BAC) and Hewlett Packard (HP) and many others have official policies that foster the work-from-home model. In working from home, the employer frees up real estate and the burdens and obligations that go along with having to own and maintain it, and in turn provides the employee some startup resources. Such setup for the employee might include up to $1,500 to outfit their home office with items such as a nice chair, 36″ monitor, printer, shredder, office supplies, etc. The employer also pays for the monthly cost of the job-related communications such as phone and DSL Internet. The employer advises the employee that she shall forfeit her office cubicle by working from home, but that she can still have access to the corporate facilities for meetings and whatnot.
The problem with WFH in the case of Yahoo! I believe, is not that the company really fears for their employees’ socialization, but rather that over time, discipline and leadership have become lax, and now there is a lot of laziness that accompanies an entitlement attitude. Ms. Mayer’s approach to eliminating WFH will accomplish getting rid of some of the dead wood that no longer contributes to the company (the good that I mentioned), but it will also alienate a lot of good and diligent people who get the modern workforce concept.
For my job now, I have an office that I come into most of the time. But I am adept at often working remotely and have done it quite a bit in the past for companies such as Verizon, MetLife, Honeywell, BAC, and others. In some cases, my employer or clients would have special gatherings or teambuilding functions to help with the social aspect. As a consultant with over 2 dozen different clients/engagements/employers, I have seen a lot of cultural stuff. In most cases, the whole office colocation paradigm is more of a downer than a good thing. In some cases, the people on my teams were distributed throughout the country, and in spending all my interaction with them, I found myself driving for more than 2 hours every day and spending $20+ on tolls and fuel, and not seeing anybody else at the office on my team, and not interacting with anyone other than saying excuse me as we bumped into one another at the coffee maker (that’s “corporate grade” coffee, mind you).
In one situation many years ago as a consultant to Verizon for CIBER, I had a 6th floor corner window office in Irving, TX. It had a door that closed. Pretty cool. But after driving for at least an hour to get there, I had no one to talk to. Most of my time was on the phone and communicating by email and chat with people in New York, or with Verizon employees who did not want to see me in the flesh (they made this clear to me by declining all my offers to come meet them in person). First I started working from home 1 day per week, then 2, then 4, then I stopped bothering to come into the office at all. During my time in that position I led some high profile initiatives and received a couple of performance awards.
What makes WFH and working remotely successful is how the job and the organization are structured. If any company wants to be and remain competitive in terms of attracting and retaining good talent over the long run, it better start taking Internet jobs seriously right away. Accountability is the key. When I first started working as a consultant at Bank of America, my chain of command were micro managers who, from a position of distrust, looked to activity as the measure of success versus productivity. As one who enjoys performance, this drove me nutty. People could do lots of meaningless stuff and be recognized as successful, while someone who worked smart and accomplished some benefit for the company would go unrewarded, or even scorned for not attending as many [meaningless] meetings as their golden child neighbor.
WFH would never have been successful in that situation. But then a reorg occurred and I got a new chain of command in California. My bosses communicated closely and articulated their expectations. I was involved in creating strategic plans for my job. From then on I worked with my boss and colleagues to plan my work and work my plan. When we vacated our facility I began working remotely. This enabled me and my family to travel the US visiting friends and family. At the same time that summer, I did not take one day off of work, and my weekly hours increased by 40%. We deployed a major software release as well as several other high profile efforts. And though I never met many of the people I worked with, we still built strong bonds which made for excellent working relationships.
Without turning this post into a multi-page article by reciting all sorts of statistics and anecdotes, I’ll conclude by saying it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Yahoo! were to amend its declaration against WFH and find another way to solve its problem and realign its workforce. If they wait too long to do this, some recruiters will have new access to some very good talent.
- Stephen Dunham