Good grief. You’d think that Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer had asked for an Old Testament sacrifice of her employees’ first-born male children. At least, you might by reading the insane backlash coming from the blogosphere.
What atrocious, demeaning, inhumane crime against humanity did Yahoo commit? They are reigning in their remote workers and requiring them to work from Yahoo offices.
The horror! The shame! The unmitigated gall!
Not only, that, but God help you if you don’t obey. There is a zero tolerance policy and any infraction means immediate termination and dismissal without due process, cause, or even a review of your record!
Or so some would have you believe. In truth, there is no such “zero tolerance” policy, despite the histrionics of 37Signals’ rant. Nor was this a condemnation of working motherhood, despite what some hysterically assert.
The true likelihood is that – in the aggregate – Yahoo is a company that needs to rebuild, which means rebuilding its culture. Cultural anthropologists know that part of what makes a culture unique is created due to a function of the time that it spends together. A broken culture that is segmented and separated will not automagically “grow” into a symbiotic one.
Let’s face it – Yahoo’s culture is broken. Dave from 37Signals has this one point right: Yahoo employees have had a rough time of the past decade. This lends itself to an ‘every man for himself” culture which does not lend itself to cohesion and bonding. Pretending otherwise simply is prolonging the inevitable.
“Hey, you can’t blame me! It’s not my fault. I was just doing what I had to do to survive in this broken culture.”
Despite the fact that there are many companies who embrace the “remote worker” atmosphere, the truth of this is that these companies are the exception, not the rule. Moreover, there are some positions that simply don’t work remotely. Richard Branson chides Mayer, saying, “Give people the freedom of where to work.” I’ll tell you what, Sir Richard: when you figure out how to let your flight attendants on Virgin Airways work remotely, perhaps we can revisit the discussion.
Until then, it’s important to take these self-entitlement gurus head on. First, it’s not your job. It’s Yahoo’s. That means that you are/were hired to do a job and if you can’t do that job, you are obviously not a fit for the job you were hired to do. Now, of course, those people who were hired with the specific understanding of being able to have flexible work schedules have the most right to be upset – I know I would be. But situations change, and if one of the reasons why Yahoo’s troubles stems from a lack of cohesion, then is it not in management’s best interest to address the source of the trouble?
During the dot-com bubble we saw a lot of changes in the work place. Some for the better, some for the worse. We’ve seen more casual dress, seen a little more playtime incorporated into the workday (moreso in Silicon Valley, perhaps, than other places around the globe). The irate, self-flattering and self-entitled rants of professors, bloggers, and Silicon Valley employees doesn’t change the fact that this is not what most businesses do.
Most businesses don’t have pool tables in the lobby. Most businesses make you buy your own lunch. Most businesses require you to be on-site to do your work. Despite the fact that many workers expect time to spend on Facebook as part of their job description does not change the fact that businesses do not exist as a source of convenience for their employees. To cry bloody murder because suddenly “the trust is gone,” ignores the simple fact that, well, perhaps the trust is gone.
Personally, I would love to work from home most of the time. For me, and the type of work that I do, I get a lot of productive work done with large, unbroken blocks of time (writing, presentations, etc.). One of my biggest issues is that I actually work too hard. I will find myself working from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. getting in ‘the zone,’ often forgetting trivial things like – oh, say for instance, – eating.
But there is no denying that the job that I have working for Cisco requires me to be in the office as much as possible. The truth is that you hear things, people stop by on a whim or to satisfy some sort of curiosity. If you’re not there, they will go elsewhere. Or, worse, they will stop going anywhere, if there isn’t anyone to be found.
I have colleagues who work remotely, and while they love the independence and freedom they lament the fact that they are often out of the loop. People forget to tell them important things that are going on. If they miss staff meetings (due to customer presentations or the like), they can’t simply stop by and find out what they miss. They have to schedule more meetings. In fact, everything is a meeting for them. More times than not they are the last to know when something important happens, or changes.
Last, but certainly not least, they are often the ones who risk missing out on promotions or bonus allocations that are discretionary: out of sight, out of mind. This potentially breeds some contempt, naturally, because right or wrong remote working is a mixed blessing for both the employer and the employee.
I have a feeling this may be precisely what is going wrong at Yahoo – at least, that’s probably one of the facets they are attempting to fix. [Update: It turns out that I may have been on to something.]
This stuff goes fast. I mean really fast. Work at a high-tech company (and this was just as true at QLogic and Apple before then) changes so quickly that it is not uncommon to put in 12-hour days as the minimum, just to feel like you’re not falling behind. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen emails indicating that people are taking personal time, but can be reached via email, text, phone, etc. Not for emergencies, mind you, but as part of the normal day.
People don’t choose this type of work lightly. There is something ingrained in them that brings them to do this day in and day out. The L.A. Times article talks about how Mayer would see the parking lots slow to fill up and quick to leave by 5 p.m. (personally, given the state of San Jose traffic, I think it speaks more to the point of trying to avoid the 4 hours of rush hour traffic between 3-7 than possibly escaping Yahoo, but that’s coming from an outsider’s Silicon Valley perspective).
The need for comaraderie in a workplace environment like this is paramount. Teams that don’t gel together risk losing billions in revenue. Believe me, I’ve seen just how critical a small team can be on the top line. If that team doesn’t communicate or work together, well, you can’t really call them a team, then can you?
Moreover, despite what some of these idiots are saying, the job market is still quite crap. Yes, some people may find it easy to find other work. My guess is that if they could have found it by now, given Yahoo’s troubles, they already would have found it. Remote workers have a bitch of a time trying to find other remote working positions without taking huge risks. Why? Because companies are inherently suspicious of new hires to begin with (ever hear of probationary periods? Hmmm?).
Here’s a thought: If you don’t like what your employer is doing, if the free iPhones, free food, and increased on-site recreational activities that are put in place to make working for the company are just “trinkets” to you, then why don’t you quit and start your own company. Then go out and hire someone just like you and see how successful you are. If you make it, great! You were right. Yahoo was foolish to let you go.
If not, how about a big nice cup of shutthehellup with two spoonfuls of quityerbitchin. There are many, many people in the tech industry who would be happy to have your job, you ungrateful self-entitled, hyper-inflated “all about me” loser.
There. I feel better.
[Update March 2, 2013] There is a lot of conversation going on about “trust,” and while many bloggers have decided to weigh in on the ‘message’ that this sends to employees they seem to forget that all this self-righteous indignation requires you to be trustworthy. It turns out that in Yahoo’s case, not so much. And Marissa Mayer had the data to back it up.