Why Yahoo! is Shooting Its Own Foot

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by Steve Motenko

My business partner Jim also blogged about the Yahoo telecommuting ban – see his post below.  And we recorded a special, virtual, telecommuted edition of The Boss Show that you can listen to here.

Almost a quarter of us work from home.  A quarter of us! And Marissa Mayer is saying, “Talk to the hand.”

In addition to my executive coaching practice and hosting The Boss Show, I manage several virtual teams as an executive for a small nonprofit.  Some random thoughts about Mayer’s telecommuting ban at Yahoo!, which has raised a firestorm…

  • Telecommuting policy is not one-size-fits-all.  In some organizations and some departments, it simply won’t work.  In others, it’s a virtual necessity (get it? virtual?).  Anyone who says this is a black-and-white issue? – ignore them.
  • That said — when an organization like Yahoo bans telecommuting outright, it shoots itself in the foot.  With brilliant IT folks in high demand, Yahoo will lose some of the cream of the crop.  They’ll easily find high-paying jobs with more flexible and trusting companies. Plus, Yahoo now closes the door on thousands of geniuses who don’t happen to live within commuting distance of Yahoo’s offices.
  • Speaking of flexibility – telecommuting is a clear direction of the working world in the 21st Century.  It’s a demand of Gen Y.  It’s the wave of the future.  Mayer’s decision is not delightfully “retro,” as some have said; it’s downright regressive.
  • Yes, f2f is best.  Body language, physical proximity, and break-room conversations carry subtle and powerful benefits to any team. And yes, with virtual workers you do need to be more diligent about regular communication – written, telephonic, video conferencing and sometimes mandatory in-person.  But the recruitment and retention benefits of allowing appropriate telecommuting far outweigh the drawbacks.
  • Managers of telecommuters must learn to trust, but verify.  Trust requires:
    • careful and competent hiring processes.  You’ve got to make damn sure your telecommuting candidates are both self-disciplined and honest.
    • leaders who naturally elicit trust from their employees — if leaders aren’t trustworthy and respectable, workers will take advantage, whether they’re working from home or under the boss’s nose.
    • a set of skills – which must be learned – to effectively dismantle the significant obstacles to effective teamwork in a virtual world

Telecommuting is not ideal.  And it’s here to stay; get used to it.

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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