Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer kicked up a ruckus when she ordered her employees to come into the office every day instead of working one or more days from home or a remote office. Enough Yahoos were irked by the memo that a “plethora” of them leaked it to the AllThingsD website, which published it. Matt Mullenweg jumped into the first AllThingsD story on the memo to boast that all but 20 of his employees work remotely and the Acculturated blog published a post representative of most stories I’ve seen on the subject that said:
Though research in this area is relatively new, working from home definitely decreases commute time, increases an individual’s ability to have work-family balance, and may allow for increased performance and satisfaction. However, the major downside for working from home has to do with a lack of face to face contact – not just Skype but actually being in the presence of another human being. In the worst case scenario, these pros and cons might be considered a wash, but on the surface, they do not appear to be something that Mayer needed to crush like a grape.
No they do not, which ought to give us pause to consider why she’d bring down the hammer on her people. Perhaps Yahoo’s employees were abusing the privilege, as this Business Insider article suggests.
“For what it’s worth, I support the no working form home rule. There’s a ton of abuse of that at Yahoo. Something specific to the company.”
This source [a former Yahoo engineer] said Yahoo’s large remote workforce led to “people slacking off like crazy, not being available, spending a lot of time on non-Yahoo! projects.”
“It was a great way to get Y! to pay you while you put in minimal work and do your side startup.”
I understand what Mayer is trying to do. Yahoo is in trouble. Its infrastructure is too large and too expensive. Its people are scattered to hell and back and an unknown number of them aren’t working nearly as hard for Yahoo as they should. Mayer needs to get a handle on her company and, more importantly, on the people working under her. She can’t do that if she can’t get them in one place, working with each other, so she can see who is worth keeping and who is not. Yahoo’s old work-from-home arrangement seemed long on the “let people work from wherever they like” and short on the “make sure those people are still producing enough value to make the arrangement worthwhile”.
There is a sizable down-side to working from home. Very few people (and I am one of them) take easily to working without structure or supervision. That’s not to say the skill is hard to acquire but if you’re like me and you’ve spent your whole life in traditional work environments working without a schedule imposed on you from an outside authority will daunt you. I find comfort in the routine — come to work by a certain time, work at a specific location, take your breaks at fairly predictable times, go home after eight or eight-and-a-half hours. I bet you do too.
However, working without a safety net (or a cattle prod) is a skill most of us can learn but that learning doesn’t happen accidentally. I believe companies like Yahoo get into trouble when they believe they can simply cut employees from the leash of responsibility without training or much oversight and assume they won’t run wild, especially when for many years they were a more traditional “everyone gather in the cubicle farm” type of company. Matt Mullenweg is proud of his largely-autonomous work force, but he didn’t get it by accident. I’d bet big money he looks for people who show they could work by themselves and gives them follow-on training to make sure they have the skills and resources they need and the accountability his company needs.
Sooooo…what does that mean for you? After all, this post isn’t much good to you unless I give you a little tidbit you can use, right? Here’s the good stuff. If you’ve a job that doesn’t absolutely require your physical presence, you can probably work from home at least one or two days a week. You’ll have to approach your bosses the right way — bring them proof it’ll cost them less money and won’t cost them any less productivity. The economy is rough enough these days that your pitch should get at least a fair hearing if you bring it down to the bottom line.
Getting your employer to agree with you is the easy part, though. Once you’ve slipped the office leash, you’ll have to back up the promises you made in your boss’ office. Read up on the perils (maybe NSFW) and pitfalls and pick up as many tips from those who are doing what you want to do as you find useful (see Leo Babauta here and here and Singyin Lee). Yes, you will have gotten off of one lead and put yourself into another set of traces, but they’re traces you control. Be deliberate, make a plan and stick to it, and enjoy yourself.
What? You wanted bullet points? Okay. Okay. Bullet points.
- Make a daily schedule and stick to it: If you’ve agreed to put in 8 hours a day, then put in 8 structured hours a day in. Don’t like structure? Make a to-do list for every day you work from home and get it done. Wait, that’s structure too. Oh, well. Don’t let it rattle you. We humans need structure or we end up adrift and useless, like a Democratic Senator.
- Make sure everyone who will be at home with you knows when it’s working time: Your loved ones don’t mean to be time-burglars, but they are. They love you and want to spend time with you and, if those loved ones are tiny people, they want things like food and drink. They won’t know like you do how important that work time is unless you make sure they know. If you work in an office, close the door. Heck, hang out a sign if you need to. If you don’t have an office, wear headphones so they know you’re doing something other than surfing the net for funny cat videos. Most importantly, talk to them before you bag the work at home gig.
- Home-worker must work: Twitter is tempting. So is World of Warcraft. YouTube is more tempting. Shut it all down and keep it that way until the work is done. Believe me, I know how hard this will be; I have trouble with it myself. Still, start building the habit today, then do the same thing tomorrow. Habits are built from daily victories. Put a string of them together and don’t crush yourself too hard if you sip up one. Just do better the next day.
- Keep in touch with your boss: Just because you’re not at the office doesn’t mean you’re not part of the team. Your employer will want progress reports, even if they don’t have a formal set-up to get them. If you’re away from the office once a week, you don’t have to check in nearly as often, though it’s not a bad idea to make sure your boss is happy with the arrangement. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to build into your call a reminder about why you’re working from home in the first place. Remember the bottom line for, for goodness’ sake, remember to be thankful!
Of course, none of these tips are worth much if you work for Yahoo, but I’ve a suspicion that Mayer’s order is only temporary. Once she’s sure of her people and the company turns around, she’ll be a lot more likely to let people slip away to remote working locations. It’s the smart thing to do.
(Photo Credit: Fortune Live Media on Twitter)
Category: The Business of Business