Yahoo – It's about management, not location


We have all heard by now of Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to ban employees from working at home, effective in June.

Pundits have been waxing eloquent on the decision--some in favor, some opposed. So I've decided to add my two cents' worth to the discussion.

As someone who commuted to and from work in the Washington, D.C., area for 20 years and now works at home, I am dumbfounded, nonplussed, aghast, bewildered, thunderstruck (insert synonym here). I shudder to think of the years of my life wasted stuck in traffic or sitting in a delayed subway car or commuter train.

So what could be the reason for this perplexing decision on the part of an otherwise intelligent and innovative business leader? Let's see what Yahoo told its employees.

"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… Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together," according to a memo to Yahoo employees obtained by All Things D.

With all of the IT tools available to improve communications and collaboration among employees at different locations, surely Yahoo could have come up with a more innovative way to ensure that their employees are working together as "one Yahoo!"

Brian Klansky, senior director of channel enablement at unified communications provider ShoreTel (Nasdaq: SHOR), hit the nail on the head: "There is no such thing as remote work anymore. Just work. The idea that we only work when we are in the office is ludicrous."

Klansky continued: "the trick is not to mandate your employees to do something. The idea is to enable them to collaborate and be productive anywhere. Use modern tools, like video, to see the body language of your employees. Use old fashioned intimate tools, like the phone, to hear the emotion."

Certainly, Yahoo could spring for some of those "modern tools," don't you think? That would be better than risking losing qualified employees through a work-at-home ban.

Perhaps there is another reason lurking behind Mayer's decision. According to Yahoo employees interviewed by the New York Times, the work ethic at Yahoo has deteriorated over time. For example, some employees have abused the work-at-home policy to do work not related to Yahoo, such as founding startup companies.

If employees are not being productive, or worse, abusing their employer, that it is a management problem, not a telecommuting policy issue. Employees in the office can be just as unproductive as those working at home or in a hotel room. Management needs to step in and work with their employees or, if absolutely necessary, fire them.

One of the most notorious instances of employer abuse was the case of "Bob" revealed in January by Verizon (NYSE: VZ). Bob worked as a software developer for a critical infrastructure company. He sent his RSA security token, used to work remotely, to a Chinese firm to do his development for him. What did Bob do while the Chinese did his work for him? He did not work from home. Instead, he sat at his desk in his office and watched cat videos and surfed eBay, while receiving rave reviews for his work.

So location of the employee is not the issue; it is management of the employee that is the issue. In reality, what Mayer is admitting with this new policy is that she and her management team are not able to manage their employees effectively.  -Fred