What Was Communicated by Yahoo!’s Work-At-Home Reversal

We have to expect information leaks. Some are intended as part of a communication plan; some are unintended and, thus, may need a communication plan. Yahoo! is experiencing the latter.

A few days ago, AllThingsD reported that the company will no longer allow telecommuting. In a leaked memo from Jackie Reses, EVP of People and Development, employees were told that, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

It’s hard to say how big, what kind or how many problems are caused by the remote workforce. (“Only several hundred” employees work remotely, though thousands “might be at home one or two days a week.”) Whatever those problems are, the new issue for Yahoo! is explaining its move. In the absence of a planned roll-out, here’s how stakeholders might be interpreting Yahoo!’s surprise announcement:

  • Some employees abused the work-at-home policy, which necessitated some unequivocal action.
  • Employees working at home were not performing as well as those in the office and/or don’t know how to manage their time at home.
  • Yahoo! leaders don’t know how to guide or train their work-at-home employees. They can’t trust what they can’t see.
  • Some competitors appear to be able to keep their employees on-site; in order to speed a turnaround, Yahoo! feels that they have to be more like them.
  • They seem to be “throwing the baby out with the bath water” – Yahoo! believes a one-size-fits-all solution is best.

The list can go on – we can keep imagining until the source of the issue give us reason to stop.

As it happens, I’m a big believer in face-to-face communication but not necessarily in the 24/7 variety. I wrote in Camelot, Inc.: Leadership and Management Insights from King Arthur and the Round Table, “The continued cohesion of a team can be helped by having at least occasional face-to-face contact. Let’s take the elevator, the car, or the airplane and get back to our base, our Camelot, every now and then and sit around the Round Table for a discussion.”

King Arthur knew that his knights would be gone for weeks or months at a time while they implemented his plans. Yet, he demanded that they all return at the same time once a year to share their stories, hear updates and reaffirm commitments.

Perhaps Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Ms. Reses can take some cues – some Camelot wisdom – from the past:

  • Hire people you can trust.
  • Train your people adequately, and ensure expectations are set and followed.
  • Communicate as often as is reasonable, practical and appropriate.
  • And, allow for flexibility. One size does not fit all.

Clearly, working at home can be challenging both for the employer and employee; it’s definitely not for everyone. But in a world of increasing customization and personalization, they should take the time to understand what kinds of people doing what kinds of jobs can work for how many days away from the office. It’s possible that Yahoo! could increase its fortunes by finding the right talent, not just the talent who can be in the office five days a week.

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