When I first read the details from Kara Swisher at All Things D, my initial reaction was, “WTF is going on at Yahoo!?” A Silicon Valley-based tech company mandating an end to flexible work arrangements is like spotting a white elk…and then watch it charge you, ready to gore you on its antlers. It doesn’t happen very often and it when it does, it usually ends with a bloody struggle. We’ve entered an age when the old ways of working are no longer valid, where productivity and effectiveness are not measured by whether you’re sitting at your assigned desk, in your building.
Which is why there is a very real possibility this isn’t at all about flexible work arrangements at all. It’s about a most pernicious form of a corporate lie. This is a layoff in disguise. By forcing remote employees to return to the office – it’s worth noting that many remote workers will have to uproot and move to make this happen – Yahoo! is effectively telling their folks to either love it or leave it. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I can’t help having a nagging suspicion that something very dodgy is happening here that will do nothing but ratchet up skepticism and cynicism among their employees. Maybe there’s open and honest dialogue taking place within Yahoo! that’s more truthful as to the real objective behind this new HR policy. I hope so, but judging by the employee anger reported by Swisher, I’m betting against it. How can there not be a sense of broken trust between management and employees? And even if you’re not a remote worker, wouldn’t you question what else is coming that will impact you? Matt Mullenweg of Automattic won’t be the only one trying to poach smart talent from this mess…and I’d say he’ll get quite a few resumes this week.
And yet, it gets more interesting when we read the original internal email from Executive Vice President of People and Development, Jackie Reses, announcing the policy. Never mind that it’s marked as “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD”. It was forwarded to Swisher and she shares it at the bottom of her follow-up post.
What really fascinates me is the second paragraph of the email:
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Note the implications. That collaboration and communication only happens when sharing the same physical space. That working outside of the office space leads to less-than-optimal performance. That “speed” and “quality” can only be managed when the boss is sitting down the hall. That Yahoo!’s employees don’t know how the hell to work independently, achieve objectives without constant management oversight, and share ideas using technologies like the phone, IM, web-conferencing, and the like. To which, I call bullshit. That’s lazy, backward, and potentially business-suicidal thinking. And that’s not an employee problem. It’s a management problem that will further sink the company, no matter how many times they try to redesign their home page.
So, which is it? Is Yahoo! just trying to surreptitiously lay off a portion of its workforce? Or admitting it doesn’t have a clue about how people can work together to solve real business problems in 2013? Or is Yahoo! just rotting from the head down?
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk