we don’t speak in gray. we don’t react in gray. we are not comfortable with gray.
that’s my “takeaway” from yahoo’s announcement about their elimination of work-at-home and telecommuting policies.
if you missed the story, here’s the upshot: yahoo’s new CEO marissa mayer has issued a policy change requiring all workers to be onsite. the rationale for this change is included in a memo shared publicly by yahoos (what they call their employees, i kid not). it focuses on the benefits of working together, especially the increased likelihood of random collisions and the innovation these produce. it’s true, studies have found innovation goes up when people work together in a shared space. productivity, on the other hand, increases when we work apart.
there’s been a rash of criticism following yahoo’s decision. the commentary and critiques run the gamut you’d expect. yahoo is on the wrong side of history. yahoo is a stale organization and this is a stale decision. it’s easy for mayer to eradicate telecommuting when she has a nursery right next to her office. yahoo’s remaining talent will run for the hills, or at least to google, facebook, or another tech company. (the irony here is that google also wants them down on the farm.) you can’t create culture from policy.
what’s missing in these responses and in yahoo’s release is the gray. the gray of is this temporary? the gray of how do we handle the insanely talented and irreplaceable person who needs to tend to his ailing partner/child/ mother/dog right now but wants to continue working? the gray of does this really need to be universal? the gray of could a creative mix of work-at-home and be-at-work days address business issues while valuing individual needs?
what’s also missing is a measure of respect; respect from those making comments and respect by yahoo for its employees. i will cautiously respect yahoo’s business decision, but i can’t defend their communication approach. the released communication did precious little to explain what’s at stake, why yahoo made this decision, why it’s being universally applied, whether they wrestled with it, and whether it’s a policy designed to get over the hump or here for the long haul.
it’s understandable why employees’ feathers were ruffled. the memo begins with a recitation of recently delivered benefits goodies before winding its way to a casual lumping together of anyone occasionally working from home into a slacker category. the business need and each individual’s reality are ignored or vaguely addressed with cheerleading.
whether yahoo realizes their intention but loses their talent because of this change, we’ll have to wait and see. whether that talent could’ve been saved with a better communication strategy, we will never know.
p.s. from the “i wish i’d done this” files: how the letter could’ve been written.