What’s really wrong at Yahoo?
By Ann Rhoades
Recently Yahoo announced that it was canceling employee work from home arrangements for all employees. The resulting criticism has been varied but certainly loudest from employees. Critics point out the downside to employees such as productivity losses, commuting headaches, child care costs, and other increased employee costs as reasons for their dismay. From an employee relations point of view this policy change has been a viewed negatively and comes during a time when tech companies like Google are bending over backwards to keep a happy workforce.
Yahoo’s Jackie Reed (VP of HR) apparently said in the memo to employees that to become the best place to work collaboration and communication will be important so there is a need to work side by side and that working side by side improves work “speed and quality,” I can tell you from experience working with JetBlue Airways that collaboration and productivity are not mutually exclusive for those working at home. JetBlue has some 1,750 reservation agents working from home and was one of the first companies to start doing this. The results have been very good for us such as having lower turnover, higher productivity, and decreased cost per call. It’s hard to make comparisons not knowing much about the types of jobs Yahoo is moving back but if collaboration is an important aspect of any of Yahoo’s positions, then it should have been built into the process from day one and managed accordingly.
We may never know what the real issue is for Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer (former exec for Google) or what steps have been taken already to address the issue but what comes across is that there’s been no mention of employee involvement in the decision. I have found that when you include employees in the decision process that the outcomes are usually much better. We have proven this time and again for companies I have worked for and with.
The real issue at hand for Yahoo is
What is the issue with people working from home?
Is the issue concerning collaboration, productivity, quality, metrics, or something else? Many times an issue may look like something that it’s not and there can be easy solutions other than ones that turn everyone off immediately. Once you assess the issue and are correct about it, then you can involve your people in finding a solution. I am a big believer of focus groups and getting these groups to solve the problem rather than forcing them to accept new policies. For one when people have input into the solution they can share ownership of it, second your corner office solution might not be the best as one that comes from those closest to the problem. Even if you ultimately conclude that working back at the office IS the best solution to the issue, at least you have involved your people in the process and you can communicate this to everyone later stating the options that were considered.
Let me next talk about the heart of collaboration. If we accept that Yahoo’s change is indeed to increase collaboration and perhaps innovation, then there are other things to be looking at for why this is not happening. For example if you don’t have a team environment, are not rewarding people for collaboration, and not rewarding people for their input then it won’t make any difference if people are sitting right next to each other. Unhappy people at the office are not going to have suddenly great ideas that get shared as compared to people working from home.
If the best solution for Yahoo is indeed having people do more back at the office, then I think a better path might have been to find alternative solutions first or going some middle of the road solution like coming into work once or twice per week. In the end Yahoo may get so much negative feedback that they revert to a middle of the road solution anyway.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about Yahoo in the coming months, many of us who work in the people side of organizations are surprised by Yahoo’s move and without knowing the details we can really only speculate. If building a great organizational culture is part of Mayer’s plan then she’s doing so with every decision that gets made and is demonstrating the values that Yahoo will continue to live by under her reign. Interestingly although collaboration was mentioned as a primary reason for bringing people back to the office, there are no signs that collaboration with the employees was used in making the decision.
Yahoo is trying to reinvigorate itself and compete against the likes of Google and other tech companies yet Google is moving in the direction of happier employees and is highly tuned into the needs of its workforce, it recently increased its maternity leave benefits from three months to five. Awesome new policies Google’s revenue per employee is about three times higher than Yahoo’s. I think Google’s happiness machine has momentum on its side.