The fact of the matter is- the way Yahoo! announced and implemented its ban on work-from-home arrangements, and the fact the company refuses to discuss the matter, is just as problematic as the actual logistical ramifications of the decision itself. The decision was sent via an internal memo to the company’s employees, a memo that was quickly leaked by disgruntled Yahoo! employees.
Here’s what the memo says, in its entirety, in case you haven’t read it yet and to refresh the memories of most of you who have read it already:
“YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD
Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.
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.
Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.
Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.
So what’s going on here? Was This Well Telegraphed Beforehand?
First of all, from internal reports there wasn’t any hint this memo was going out, or that remote working arrangements were going to be terminated. For Yahoo!’s credit the company didn’t issue this decree “effective immediately,” and instead the policy falls into place “Beginning in June,” which, at the least, gives remote workers time to figure out how to restructure their professional lives back into the office, and it gives those employees who aren’t about to return to a traditional work structure the opportunity to look for jobs elsewhere.
In this, at the least, Yahoo! got it right. While they certainly could have gone about announcing the policy a little better, or even more accurately they could have gone about deciding on the policy in a more collaborative manner, they at least provided plenty of time between this announcement and its implementation.
But that’s about all Yahoo! did right as far as this announcement goes, and if you decide to reduce or eliminate remote working arrangements from your organization you’ll do well learning from the company’s mistakes.
Poor Wording, Poorly Stated Justifications
It may sound like nitpicking, but the company shouldn’t have positioned the new policy as some sort of choice employees have by using the phrasing “Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices.” They aren’t asking, they’re mandating, and the only choice employees have in the matter lies in whether they want to play ball or whether they’re going to quit.
But if that criticism is too granular for your tastes, there’s a much bigger fish to fry in this announcement, and that’s the fact the company couched the entire memo in soft, ambiguous terms. The memo defends the decision by citing fuzzy goals like making sure everyone participates in “the culture and positive momentum,” aspirations such as helping the company’s offices “become the absolute best place to work,” and saying “working side-by-side” leads to greater “communication and collaboration.” The memo’s even worse when it starts to talk about what’s wrong with work-from-home arrangements, saying nothing more than “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
Why are these statements so problematic? Easy- they don’t actually say anything substantive. The memo is fluffy, a problem that could have been fixed if they simply cited, in real terms and in hard numbers, the productivity and collaborative boosts they expected to receive from eliminating remote work arrangements. These numbers can be hard to pin down, but the company should absolutely hold productivity measurements they can use to compare the assumedly superior performance of office workers with the assumedly inferior performance of the company’s remote workers.
Providing these sorts of hard, irrefutable numbers detailing what remote work arrangements were costing the company would have helped drive their point home and legitimate it. Instead, the company fell back on ambiguities.
Is it possible Yahoo! doesn’t know what sort of impact making he switch to 100% office oriented workers will bring them, and that the company doesn’t have a clue how much remote work arrangements are costing them?
This grim reality is highly possible, which highlights a major problem with how Yahoo! implemented its work-from-home policies, problems any company can avoid with the right oversight.