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3/1/2013
10:59 AM
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Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer just banned working at home. But she's a CEO of a company in need of turnaround, not an IT leader.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has banned working at home for her "Yahoos," in the name of improving productivity and collaboration. As InformationWeek's Rob Preston noted yesterday, this was not a societal referendum on working at home. This was one CEO making a call about what was best for one company at one moment in time, and as Preston put it, setting a tone for change.

Let's be clear: Mayer is not a CIO. She is a CEO. Her first job must be to turn around that company's performance.

Most CIOs are in a different place. When I meet them in the course of my work, they share their first worry early and often: finding, grooming and keeping talented people. And there's no question that most CIOs must have the telecommuting option at their disposal. If companies start banning working at home en masse, it will put a whole lot of CIOs at an awful disadvantage.

[ Did Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer just slap social technologies in the face? See what InformationWeek's Debra Donston-Miller has to say. ]

I'm thinking about the IT leader at a rural Texas hospital group who told me she was going crazy trying to find the right cloud and virtualization people in her area, until she realized the solution to her problem is telecommuting. She could bang her head against the wall trying to get people to move, or she could find people who could do that work from afar, she told me.

I'm thinking of my recent meeting with a service provider that modernizes legacy applications to run in the cloud, securely. It does a lot of business in Hartford these days, with insurance companies -- because hotshot developers aren't clamoring to live in Hartford. But insurance company CIOs need hotshot developers.

Martha Heller, president of Heller Search Associates, which specializes in recruiting CIOs and IT leaders, tells me, "The No. 1 skill in IT leadership right now is the relationships they can build with people in the company. CIOs have an issue right now where they can't find people to report to them with that skill. You can't build that at home."

On the other hand, she says, "You are going to lose some people. For some people, having the ability to work at home is important to them because peoples' lives are complicated and the more flexibility they have, the happier they will be and the longer they will stay."

Can effective collaboration happen among a network of far-flung workers? This of course depends on the industry and the particular workers. I was relieved to see Preston say in his column Thursday that telecommuting has worked for our company, given that I have remotely managed an editorial team for him for almost two years now. We have hatched many creative ideas via IM and over the phone. But can remote collaboration work well in an IT setting? Heller says that's the wrong question. "Whether it can happen or whether it is happening are two different things," she says. Clearly, Mayer decided it wasn't happening at Yahoo, Heller says.

Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder wrote in his analysis of Mayer's decision that an examination of Yahoo financials showed lower employee productivity compared with Mayer's previous employer, Google. That finding doesn't suggest a company that collaborates well. Perhaps better technology and strategy choices could have helped, Gownder wrote. "For most businesses, managing and, indeed, empowering remote workers will be a key competency in the next 10 years," he says.

But CIOs can't just roll out great collaboration technology and watch the results roll in. "You need a plan," Heller says. "You can't say: 'You 50 people at home, here's Yammer, go to it.'"

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IT leaders must listen to the voices from the trenches before they make a blanket decision on telecommuting. In the InformationWeek 2013 U.S. Salary Survey, IT staffers rank "telecommuting/working at home" only 11th out of 24 job factors, behind pay, flexible work schedules, having opinion and knowledge valued and job atmosphere. A sizable 43% cite flexible work schedules as a priority. (I suspect many people define "flexible work schedules" as not only flexible hours, but also occasional telecommuting.)

Our columnist Jonathan Feldman, who serves as CIO of a city in North Carolina, says flexibility is key. "It's not so much the telecommuting as the flexibility to do so," he says. "Different things matter to different people. I've got folks for whom it would be a deal breaker to never be able to telecommute and/or have a flex schedule." (See Feldman's recent column for more advice on IT leadership failures that cause employees to leave.)

In my mind, issuing an overall ban on telecommuting, as Mayer has done, is a tremendous disadvantage for IT managers trying to attract and retain talent.

Will Mayer drive some talented people away from Yahoo with this decision? Certainly. Will she turn around the culture and productivity problems at Yahoo with this decision? That remains to be seen.

Some Yahoo-watchers have speculated that this is Mayer doing a layoff without having to do a layoff. If that's her intention, this tactic isn't any more or less kind than doing an actual layoff. Mayer's job right now isn't to be kind. It's to save Yahoo.

Your job as an IT leader and talent manager is something else entirely. Think twice about blanket edicts that limit your flexibility.

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Certifiable
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Certifiable,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2013 | 4:25:37 AM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
Excellent point, Chuck. But then when the far lower labor costs of offshored work is factored in, suddenly all of that need for "face-to-face collaboration" and "company culture" gets whacked right out of the discussion. Here is to hoping that Ford's move to insource most of their engineering/IT workforce is successful in the future.
tslate
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tslate,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 12:28:55 PM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
Regardless of oneG«÷s personal feelings regarding working at home or wherever, the arguments about productivity are rather a moot point. If youG«÷re arguing that youG«÷re just as productive at home or worse more productive, then as an employer I would argue itG«÷s your attitude and personal dynamics that are the issue and not the location of the work. Further that would reflect poorly on the individual who doesnG«÷t have the requisite skills required to manage both office work and personal life. I don't believe a biased employee's perception that they're more productive out of the office is statistically meaningful. We are certainly not doing anything more innovative compared to when the major advances in US technology (including non-computing) were achieved many decades ago. There may be reasons for not wanting to work in an office but they have nothing at all to do with increased productivity, at least letG«÷s be honest. That said, as an engineer if what youG«÷re doing at home (or in the coffee house) is better than either the work is not challenging enough or youG«÷re paid too much. Note IG«÷m not commenting about the occasional issues such home maintenance, deliveries, etc. that arrangements must be made. But they should still not over-shadow the primary focus and responsibilities that should be inherent in any work relationship. G«£DemandingG«• a flex schedule shows immaturity and inflexibility on the part of the employee. I have never seen a more productive employee on any of my teams work remotely nor key personnel ever work from home. Pushing too hard to have a more relaxed work life ultimately will be to the detriment of a personG«÷s career as employers will simply look either to other alternatives or if the job requirements allow part time employees (anywhere in the world). You need to be very careful what you ask for.
Melanie Rodier
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Melanie Rodier,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2013 | 3:50:05 PM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
The fact that Yahoo has a lower employee productivity compared with Mayer's previous employer, Google, probably has little to do with the number of telecommuters at either company but a lot more to do with the way employees are managed. While putting in some office time can be necessary at times, a good manager should inspire employees to produce their best work regardless of whether they are working remotely or in the office.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/4/2013 | 3:12:10 PM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
I don't see many parallels to HP yet. Yahoo is a troubled but much less complex company, in terms of number of lines of business/number of products, as compared to HP. Yes, Fiorina lost the confidence of her troops. Mayer is not there yet. She's really at the start of trying to convince them she can help fix Yahoo.

I still don't like the blanket no work-at-home edict because it limits flexibility for her chiefs.
Leo Regulus
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Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2013 | 1:29:18 AM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
As with everything, 'It Depends.....".

If she were a man, he would be a sexist pig etc. etc., but.....

And, at the end of the day, She is the Boss and She is responsible to whom / what ever for her management conduct.

Regardless, most probably this decision will end up paying for her new child's college tuition along with bells and whistles, no matter what we think about it.

as in, 'Deal With It.'
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
3/2/2013 | 4:51:39 PM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
It all comes down to the right people. Some do well working remotely, others do not. I think the case at Yahoo is to find out who is really in it and who is not. If you want to turn around a company then you need employees who stick with you even when some perks are not available and things are changing. The decision that Mayer made was probably not done without some thought and ideally after getting feedback from employees. So far nobody reported about what the Yahoos think and if most of them want to give this a try and how many of them are quitting because of the change. Instead everyone gets into a twist over how this would never fly at this or that company. This was a decision made at Yahoo for Yahoo. The free for all do whatever you want when you want 90s web bubble spirit clearly does not work for Yahoo, so something had to change. I think everyone should give it a rest for now and check back in six months.
JimC
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JimC,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 10:11:37 AM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
Let me add some political incorrectness to this discussion. If Yahoo's CEO were male, the women who telecommute would have started screaming that the requirement to work in the office is in fact, sexism. It's discrimination against working mothers, yet another evil plan hatched by men in their War Against Women.
JimC
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JimC,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 10:05:11 AM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
I'm going to disagree with the notion that this is a layoff in disguise. If Yahoo needs to get rid of some dead wood, that doesn't mean its least productive employees are its telecommuters. There are plenty of unproductive people who show up at the office each day and plenty of productive people who work remotely.
ari_508
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ari_508,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 5:26:04 AM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
If the culture is broken at Yahoo! then it will be just as broken in-person as it is by telecommute. The CEO has sent a clear message that work-life balance is not important. Any Yahoo! talent that values balance will easily find employment elsewhere leaving dead wood behind.

Tone deaf edicts from the CEO's office that impact compensation (and ability to work remotely is part of the package) have little hope of making the culture better.

It's just a layoff without firing at a struggling company. That's the message I hear loud and clear.
dissi201
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dissi201,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 5:18:30 AM
re: Yahoo Flap: Should IT Leaders Ban Work At Home?
I'm sorry G«™ but there's no evidence she has accomplished anything with this move EXCEPT ensuring all the "chickens are in the coup". Doesn't guarantee anyone will "lay eggs" G«™ or in this case, create an atmosphere of creativity and innovation. She is confusing the fact that Yahoo is akin to Google. She hasn't begun to create an environment that will even begin to scratch the surface of what Google does for their employees. THAT is why Google is one of the top 10 organizations to work for G«™ the way in which they treat their employees and the HUGE amount of benefits afforded them. Sequestering folks within a building is NOT going to "hack it". As I said in another column, the way she is conducting herself (noted in other comments), we will find her wearing out the soles of her Prada's looking for another job. Shades of HP!
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