Friday, March 1

Time for Yahoo to understand who they are

If you have any exposure at all to the tech world you are more than likely familiar with the bombshell dropped by the CEO of Yahoo calling all their remote workers back to the office.  As someone who has spent the last 5 years of his life working remote, this hits me close to home... literally.  As I read the articles and comments to those articles it is absolutely clear to me that the average person neither understands the challenges, nor advantages of working from home.

I could make several compelling arguments for remote work stretching from making good on work-life-balance, to getting away from office distractions, to workspace costs to the company, to environmental impact from highway traffic both on infrastructure and in emissions/carbon footprint.  However, all of those arguments miss the fundamental point, as Ms. Mayer is missing the point.

Working from home is a benefit, and a valuable one.  In this age of troubling economics with people out of work, the tech industry has really not encountered much of this downturn.  Some large companies have downsized, but much of that is an ongoing process of removing unproductive workers from their ranks.  In general there are still far fewer qualified candidates than there are open positions.  Great technology companies require great talent.  There are some people who are unwilling or unable to move from where they live, where their children go to school, and where their families, churches, and support systems exist.  Nonetheless, they are talented individuals who can be significant contributors to organizations.

To be quite honest, Yahoo is not the technology destination they were 15 years ago.  They need all the help they can get to acquire top talent.  A benefit like working from home is probably much more valuable to them than face time.  They would be better off improving their telepresence capability than ending the program altogether.

The bottom line is, an unethical worker who will cheat the company on time is unethical whether they are in the office or out.  Someone who is a bad communicator does not necessarily get better face to face.  It remains to be seen how this will impact Yahoo as a company and if they will indeed lose some of their top talent because of it.  However, it is important for any company considering similar moves in the wake of this announcement to have a firm understanding of who they are.  A justification like, "this is how Google works" is missing a very important piece of the puzzle... you are not Google.  Google the search engine company had to jump through a lot of hoops to become Google the technical destination employer.  Just copying their behaviors isn't magically going to get you back to relevancy.  You need smart, talented people to get you there.  Cutting valued benefits isn't a very good way to go about that.