Working from Home (Again!)

It’s about leadership, direction, and courage


So here’s the thing. Or at least one thing to follow up on the Marissa Mayer decision to call all her Yahoos! home.

I characterized her elimination of working from home as a failure of imagination in my previous post because Mayer seems to want to revert to an older way of getting the work done, rather than striking out in some bold new direction. Or any new direction.

More than new HR practices, Yahoo! needs a strategy and it needs leadership. These are the things that will move the company out of its funk.

Leadership isn’t bossing people around. Leadership isn’t telling people where to go or what to do.

Leadership is setting direction, with clarity. And with force, unapologetically, if the circumstances warrant. Leadership is doing the heavy lifting that clears the way and makes it possible for your people to move in the direction you’ve set.

Blogger Max Nisen writes about how this is all about culture change and saving a troubled company.

If that’s the case, then Mayer needs to say that. She needs to say exactly what she means. Repeatedly. If this is about building something new, she needs to say that in every piece of communication that is generated.

I read the leaked memo. It is brief and refers to the elimination of the remote work policy with a sprinkling of corporate cliches: “...contribute to the positive momentum...feel the energy and buzz...become the absolute best place to work...the best is yet to come…”.

Some have come to Mayer’s defense, suggesting she is a data fiend and makes no decision without a spreadsheet. The data reportedly show that people aren’t logged in (and working) nearly as much as they say they are.

Still others say she has made the rounds of some employees (presumably those working in the office) and has received an earful about how un-collaborative the work-from-homers are.

If she has undertaken a significant review of the data, if she has spoken to employees about the situation, then she has to say that. She can’t just make pronouncements and expect that everyone knows how rigorously she reached her surprising conclusions. 

Making pronouncements, even if you are the boss, is not how you build trust. And trust seems to be a big part of what’s lacking at Yahoo!

There is also a big people management issue here. Is it really too hard to manage people from a distance? Or is this just another failure of imagination? Make it part of every manager’s job to figure this out. In the right kind of supportive environment, left to their own devices, people will figure it out.

One idea worth considering is something Nancy Dixon calls the oscillation principle. Degrees of interdependency and task complexity are determining factors in the frequency of face-to-face contact. Most of the time remote or virtual interaction works just fine. And there are times when the situation demands being in a room together. Determine what those are on a case by case basis and act accordingly.

Or how about this: What if Mayer spent a month visiting her remote employees in THEIR places of work? The kitchens and attics and coffee shops. How much do you think she would learn? And what kind of a message would she send throughout the organization?

Yes, it’s hard. Leadership is hard. It takes courage. And that includes a willingness to get it wrong once in a while, admit it, and move on.