I’m disappointed by Marissa Mayer’s decision, as reported by AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, to ban all remote work at Yahoo. While there could be real justification for this move, the way it broke — through a memo from Yahoo’s head of HR, Jackie Reses — is a smoking gun for a case of company process replacing trust. Form suggests function.
Presumption: Yahoo identified a problem with the productivity of remote workers. This may be a big presumption, since it’s possible that no problem was identified and the move was good old unwarranted assumption. This happens all the time and has as much to do with individual philosophy as it does legitimate qualitative experience. I don’t really have a hard time imagining that meeting:
CEO: “We have how many people working remotely, again?”
HR: “Hundreds or more.”
CEO: “Well that doesn’t make any sense, we have to all pull together to make Yahoo the best Yahoo ever! We can’t have a bunch of hoos off running around with all us yas back here at the office! We didn’t do that at Google!”
HR: “Then the question is, do we accept lower productivity by allowing remote work, or do we increase productivity by banning it?”
But let’s give Mayer credit where credit is due and presume there was legit data behind the decision. There would have been data presented to her by her lieutenants showing that remote workers in various departments were less productive than their in-house counterparts. The data would have been mapped to ROI in some form and backed up by the research camp that suggests that working from home is less productive (as opposed to the camp that touts remote work — there is plenty in both camps). The whole thing would have been properly spreadsheeted and powerpointed.
At that point Mayer could have either asked HR to make the bill into law (presumably what she did) or ask her managers to target the specific employees whose productivity was down and bring them into the office to see if they improve. Making law was the easy way out — it was a common case of adding a process instead of identifying areas that needed trust. The other way — to fix specific problems with productivity and trust within the organization — would have involved more time, effort, follow-through and data mapping.
And given the bridge over troubled interwebs on which Yahoo is teetering, it’s a not a stretch to see that going the quicker, easier corporate-initiative route might make some sense. There are too many Yafish to fry as it is and Yahoos need to buck up and they still have a hundred more Yagenda items to get through and all that. But I can’t quite go there — too often companies make broad, easy strokes when detailed sketches are needed to draw forth real change, make direct impact and build and maintain trust. Productivity has a hard time springing forth from large-scale process alone, and Yahoo’s decision in this case sure seems like a little red flag. They have enough of those already.