No More Flex Work? Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

So those who may not know, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced that employees are no longer allowed to telecommute – at all.

I told myself I was going to stay out of it, take a step back, relax for a bit, watch and listen, and see what happens at Yahoo within the next few months and then add my two cents.

However the “implementer of organizational improvements” and organizational development practitioner parts of me just couldn’t bite my tongue any longer. So, here’s my take on the news.

“To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. It is the art of delegation…”Richard Branson

Why this decision deflects the larger issues

I share a similar opinion of Sir Richard Branson – ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

OK, now that my view is abundantly clear, a bit more as to why I not only think denying telecommuting is a horrible idea – but also why I think the decision just deflects from larger organizational issues at Yahoo.

  • Trust: Marissa Mayer is already facing trust issues among her employees. She hasn’t received warm fuzzies from the workforce. If people are already questioning trust in a new leader one sure fire way to perpetuate that feeling is by removing a company perk that helps to build trust. When employees are allowed to telecommute, it shows management has a level of trust in them, that they can get work done and meet goals and deliverables while not in a cube under the watchful eye of the boss. Saying “I must see you so I know you’re not eating bon-bons and watching Days of Our Lives is simply insulting – and one way to help decrease a trusted relationship.
  • Engagement: People are already insulted by Mayer’s attitude, upset with her hiring choices in bringing in outsiders, and unsure of her strategic direction for the company. From a change management perspective, her transition has been managed terribly. It seems Yahoo!took the “Hi, she’s here, she’s gonna do it her way, deal with it” approach to leadership change and transition. This is a deadly approach for maintaining high levels of engagement. In addition, the type of people who work for tech companies like Yahoo! are used to certain perks, besides just free food and foosball.
  • Talent: Much of the talent with technical skills and interest in working for companies like Yahoo are Gen Y and Millennial talent. This generation doesn’t hold the same belief on the necessity of face to face contact, and thus as they are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce, maintaining that type of culture will make it difficult to attract and retain them. One of the biggest ways to engage Gen Y and Millennial talent is to provide a flexible work environment.

Rethinking how we engage with employees

“The flexible work option of telecommuting is only one significant workforce trend, however. With the influx of Gen Y and Millennials in the workforce, corporations are forced to rethink the way they engage with their employees.”  Cisco IT article March 2012, Transforming Employee Engagement

Regardless of what internal statistics may say, this is no way to go about causing positive culture change! It’s no secret that Yahoo is losing the battle with Google, in both profits and innovation.

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I view this entire decision on behalf of Yahoo a ploy to reduce engagement, giving another excuse to force people out or get rid of them – perhaps in an effort to cut costs. The only thing is the good performers may be lost as well, not to mention that leadership also needs to be taking accountability for current issues, not covertly shifting blame in the form of outdated policies.

Although I feel that virtual communication will never be a substitute for face to face communication, it is simply unrealistic in today’s connected and global business world to push for an all-or -nothing approach. Many people don’t just want, but require, flexibility.

In today’s business world, particularly when wonderful technology provides for visual communication and it’s much cheaper, good reasons for denying telecommuting are becoming harder and harder to find.

In addition, I’ve found the most high performing cultures embrace technology and the virtual way of doing business, while still providing basic training on the importance of face to face communication skills – oh yeah, and their leaders also take some personal accountability and actions to improve!

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, CSM, is CEO at Tolero Solutions. His focus is people. He is a leadership coach and people strategist, which includes a focus on communications and change management. He supports leaders, teams, and individuals to survive and thrive through personal and professional change and transition. He supports organizations to engage and retain talent and wow customers, achieving success through people, creating places where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business.