Having just returned from the Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) annual forum in Baltimore, discussion surrounding Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and her decision to end telecommuting for employees bubbled up throughout. No question, many (including me) are talking about this business decision, and it's one that deserves plenty of discussion. Back in the dark ages - when I began working in the work/life arena, terms like job-sharing and telecommuting required definitions and explanations. They were foreign concepts to many and those remotely familiar with them quickly concluded that it was something the "other guy" may consider doing, but not them. We've come a long way...until Mayer slammed on the brakes.
Progress means taking two steps forward and one step back. We try a new strategy or program and then have to pivot and adjust. But when something that has been earned - whether a promotion or the ability to work remotely - is taken away under the guise of wanting to improve communication and collaboration, it becomes a new game.
Communication is a process that involves sharing information, facts, and ideas. Collaboration is a method of bringing together minds and talents. Neither requires that people breathe the same air space or pass each other en route to the cafeteria. At least not every day. We've long since passed the "punch in at 9/punch out at 5 (if you're lucky) and I need to see you sitting at your desk whenever I pass by" workplace, and those who have fought for progress in the area of workplace flexibility are not going to relent. Nor should they.
Anyone who has a pre-schooler, teen with a disability, elderly parent, sick spouse, or simply the desire to adjust their work location as needed would agree that this mandate is a no-go. It's one thing for an organization to be *working toward* a culture whereby flexible work options are part of their operations, but quite another to have it implemented and then taken away. Since when did we revert back to measuring productivity by face-time? And what measures is Mayer using to conclude that communication, collaboration and productivity have suffered because of telecommuting employees? Certainly she must share.
Along with up-ending the lives of employees in this organization, there's a broader concern, one that I shared with colleagues at AWLP's forum. Other CEOs - because we know that CEOs communicate and collaborate with other CEOs albeit not in the same building - will now either be re-examining their own flexible work/telecommuting policies under a new lens or will be concluding that no...this entire concept isn't for their organization because if it didn't work for Yahoo, it won't work for them.
A business is its employees. Not its building or products. Not its intellectual capital or services. It's their people. Diverse individuals struggling every day to balance their work responsibilities with home lives. Organizations compete for "best company" status and spend millions recruiting and retaining top performers.
Some things we know ...
- The emphasis on employee health (mental and physical), stress, balance, and flexibility are core business issues and concerns.
- Employees place a huge emphasis on the importance of their leaders/managers listening to their needs and responding accordingly.
- Workplace flexibility is always at the top of the list of reasons why an employee joins or remains with an organization.
Yahoo's short and long-term turnover numbers, exit interview results, and their retrenched recruitment strategies (and goals) will definitely be things I want to see. And while the extent of the fallout will take some time to assess, of this I feel certain - those employees impacted by this archaic policy will either let their feet do the talking or are saying a lot of words these days, most of which would sound something like this ... "*@#!!*#*!!".