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Yahoo To Telecommuters: Get Your [Body] Into The Office

Well, happy Monday morning, Yahoo employees. Looks like your telecommuting days have come to an end.

Silicon Valley firms are known for cushy perks: free food, bringing your dog to work and so on. But starting in June, Yahoo employees will lose the benefit of working from home. According to an internal memo leaked on Friday to The Wall Street Journal’s by numerous disgruntled Yahoo employees, the new policy calls for workers “physically being together.”

“We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices… Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” reads the memo from Jacqueline Reses, a private equity veteran brought on board by Mayer in September to be the company’s HR boss.

You can always count on those humorless “Human” Resources folks to rain on the parade with their one-size-fits all policies. They don’t worry much about the “human” side of things. That’s why you hear them referring to “humans” as “talent”. They’re into “talent acquisition”, “talent management”, and “talent development”. Then, at the end of your “talent life cycle”, there’s “talent disposal”. When your “HR” people aren’t even part of your own organization, they’re free to do their best work, unconstrained by the possibility of having actually met (or – heaven forbid – become attached to) the employees.

For anyone who thought that CEO Marissa Mayer would continue the generally people-friendly policies of her previous workplace (Google), you can kiss that sh*t goodbye. She’s clearly focused on the bottom line, and if you’re not riding the profitability bus to the end of the line with her, you’d best get off right now.

Ms. Mayer is clearly a business-first type of person, having returned to work as the CEO within a few weeks of giving birth. Then again, she has the resources to enable her to do so. Most of us don’t have a nanny, housekeeper, errand person, personal shopper, dog walker, or other domestic staff on our payroll.

She’s also shrewd enough to realize that the best way to make the bottom line look better in the near term is to cut costs. The biggest costs are usually those pesky employees. Laying them off, though, is a costly business, what with severance pay and all that paperwork. However… if you can get them all to quit on their own out of anger, frustration, and resentment, it’s a work of pure genious.

As a veteran of 37 years in corporate America, and veteran telecommuter, your intrepid diarist has a few ideas about this misbegotten Yahoo plan. Follow along below for more…

I began telecommuting when my 62-mile-each-way commute was getting to be a major time sink during winter weather in New England. I worked at home one or two days a week in the peace and quiet of my home in the country. I got plenty done, far more, in fact, than I’d get done in a typical day in the office. Without (1) the time lost commuting and (2) the time wasted with interruptions and distractions and (3) time wasted going off site to buy lunch, I gained about three hours a day.

I was still successful. My clients, coworkers, and management could reach me any time of the day (we were banned from using cell phones while driving, so I was now accessible during that time). I invested in a robust printer/copier/scanner and good broadband service. I could listen to classical music and work in the sun-lit breakfast nook, taking calls with no background conversations or office noise. It was all good.

Later, when I had a job with extensive interaction with colleagues around the world, telecommuting made even better sense. My workday adapted to the demands of the job. I took a break for supper and a few hours, then got on calls with folks in Hong Kong, Christchurch, Perth, Shenzhen, Brisbane, and other far off places at 11:00 at night. I’d get up early for calls with London. Going into the office wouldn’t have made any difference: these people weren’t in my office. With the benefit of video teleconferencing – whether at the office or via web cams – we could achieve what we needed to achieve and feel a real connection to one another.

Maybe Yahoo’s different, but I doubt it. Forcing people to traipse to the office every day won’t necessarily inspire that serendipitous collaborative spark. It will, however, serve as a loud and uambiguous wake-up call to Ms. Mayer’s employees that it’s time to leave for more truly collaborative pastures.

Those who heed the call will typically be the more gifted, visionary, entrepreurial folks. They’ll have no difficulty landing new jobs where their bright ideas, individuality, and flexibility will be seen as “features” rather than “bugs”. They’ll be the innovators that help Yahoo’s competitors continue to eat Yahoo’s lunch. In the near term, Yahoo’s stock price – and Ms. Mayer’s reputation as a non-nonsense CEO – may do very well. Wall Street will love this “crush the little people” story. Yahoo’s employees, customers, and business partners will be the ones paying the price.

Those telecommuters who remain at Yahoo whether by choice or as a result of real or perceived wage-slave indenture will hardly be in a frame of mind to lead the company to new heights. At that point, an infusion of outsiders will likely be the next “fix”. Since their new HR czarina has decreed that:

“Hiring, managing and incentivizing talent will be of key importance”

we can look forward to much more rigorous screening, indoctrination, and regimentation of prospective employees. “Incentivizing” employees, though? I’d have to wonder whether telecommuting privileges aren’t among the most valued incentives. Personally, I would rather forsake the next paltry salary increase or meaningless change of title and grab for the telecommuting gold.

Whether this is the beginning of the end for Yahoo, or a business coup of the decade by new CEO Marissa Mayer remains to be seen. What is clear – as it has been for a long time – is that having a CEO who’s a working mother doesn’t ensure that working parents will catch a break. Far from it. They’ll have to make difficult and painful choices if they want to keep working at Yahoo. Some will walk away from what they considered good jobs at a great place. Maybe that’s exactly what Ms. Mayer is hoping.  

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  1. nchristine

    I’m telecommuting full time and have been since the beginning of November last year, 4 months.  I was allowed to telecommute after having been a contract employee for just short of a year and had been kicking ass on the assignments given.  To be blunt, they wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did on the project if I weren’t there.

    I have been kept out of discussions, decisions and lots of conversations as a result of telecommuting now.  I do have a soft phone on my laptop, instant messaging, and email.  I do use them all.  But, since “they” put the project that I was hired for on hold, the 8.30 teleconferences have stopped – the senior pgmr didn’t like them to begin with.  I have found that I’ve lost a whole lot of human contact that I generally need (for someone as introverted as I am, this was a shock to realize that I do enjoy being with people some of the time).  I hear nothing, even when I ask.

    However, that could be because I’m contract and the ‘real’ employees don’t really want to get too close because I could be gone at any time for whatever reason.  The company has no vested interest in me.  I’m the hired help and treated as such.  Those of you old enough will know what that means.  (and people wonder why I’m so anxious about the outcome of the interview I had 3 weeks ago – that seems like forever when I type it, but it also seems like yesterday.)

  2. slksfca

    …I worked for a very disagreeable man, as the network administrator for his accounting firm. He kept making a lot of noises about wanting to get the office “ready for the 21st century” but one day when I went home for lunch I did some online research on my home computer for something he’d wanted, and emailed him the results (this was through CompuServe). He got all irate and told me never to “telecommute” again. LOLOL!

  3. Telecommuting is good for the environment and reduces stress. Yes, it can be isolating because you can’t roll your desk chair into the next cubicle and chat with a colleague but that is why we have the Internets. When I need human contact, I open my web browser and … voila … here all y’alls are!!

  4. pittiepat

    was pretty much an in the future thing, we did have two options which made for happy employees.  The first option was a compressed work week.  Our pay periods were 10-8 hours days.  We could choose to work those 80 hours in 9 days with the 10th day off.  Voila, a 3-day week-end every two weeks.  The second option was a flexible schedule.  We had to be in our offices between 9am-3 pm but when we started and ended our workdays was up to us.  I generally worked 7am-4pm but some our engineers and chemists worked from 9 am until whenever.  We were all very happy with these arrangements.

  5. Diana in NoVa

    When I read this on the “crawl” while watching the first 20 minutes of “Good Morning, Hysteria,” today I was PISSED.  Sorry for using terrible language, but that’s how I felt.

    Wish I could rec your diary 1,000 times.  Telecommuting was my favorite thing in my last job.  We were allowed to do it one or two days a week until the Fiend who took over from the previous manager stopped it. If I’d been allowed to telecommute I might still be working:  as it is, I left on St. Paddy’s Day, 2006.  Every day since then has been absolute bliss.

    I still work at home, I just don’t get paid for it now.  I blog, I write short stories, I write in my (online) journal.  Have an office with a window that looks out into the street (“Wow, I see the Fed Ex truck!  Wow, here’s the post office van!  Whoopee, there are the garbage guys!”) and LOTS of music. I am happier than a curly-tailed piggy wallowing in mud.

    Telecommuting is the most wonderful thing in the world apart from retirement. Not having to put up with time-wasting colleagues–yay!  Not having to put up with idiotic meetings that are nothing but an ego trip for some company biggy–yay again!  Not having to fret and fume through the worst traffic in the nation–hip, hip, hurrah!

    Telecommuting doesn’t suit everyone’s personality (my son, in sales, hates it) nor does it suit every job category.  But those of us who love, or loved it, swear by it.  

    Yep, I hope there is a purple-faced tide of employees planning to leave Yahoo in June or sooner.

  6. Wee Mama

    my daughter is a project manager at Google and has stories about her. Unfortunately I don’t think she would want me to make them public. I’ll just say her actions are not at all surprising.

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