Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spin only making Yahoo's bad new policy worse

Yahoo's latest move to try to shake itself out of the doldrums is an edict that bans telecommuting.  The new policy and the memo that dictates it to employees are both pretty bad.

The memo says, "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."  The solution is not working smarter, harder, more efficiently or with better use of technology, but rather just being "physically together."  No data is provided as to how being "present in our offices" will solve anything.  No explanation of the pros and cons of telecommuting is given.  The memo is a superficial collection of flowery phrases offered up in the hope that they will be accepted as fact.

What's really needed in these situations is policy that recognizes the modern way in which global technology work gets done and finds the right balance among a wide variety of activities.  Technology company leaders should want to encourage people to put in the hours necessary to do great work, wherever they might be.  In-office or out-of-office is a secondary outcome.  In-office work can help in collaboration, team building and communication-related activities.  Out-of-office work, away from meetings and other office attractions (food, ping pong and friends), can facilitate efficient consideration of product strategy, long term planning and development of...well, better core human resources policies.

But where the "no working from home" policy goes from bad to just plain weird is some of the spin that has accompanied it.  One recent report provided extensive justifications on the new policy from someone close to the issue, presumably an insider.   This source suggests that the policy came about because some employees were poor performers and "not productive."  These people will theoretically quit rather than comply with the new policy, which would be a good thing for the organization.  So, the source suggests, CEO Marissa Mayer sees this as "a layoff that's not a layoff."

For this, the source suggests that Mayer "turned out to have a lot of courage.  She's dealing with problems no one wanted to deal with before."

This makes no sense.  Yahoo seems to be having a problem with productivity and with management.  If some remote employees are not productive and yet it takes a complete ban on remote work as the solution, then it's clear that those employees and their managers were poor performers.  What's more, there is nothing courageous about using a broad and rigid policy to achieve "a layoff that's not a layoff."  It's much more passive-aggressive than courageous.  And more passive-aggressive leadership is the last thing corporate America needs.

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