Marissa Mayer's recent management edict is in the news these days.  Without getting into the specifics of her situation, I was wondering what everyone's thoughts were on work from home and telecommute arrangements?   Does anyone have them and how do they work (or not work)?

In my experience, I think the notion that you can't create a team when the individuals have no relationship with each other is probably right.   I think there's a lot to be said for face time.

My industry doesn't allow this kind of stuff so I have no experience, so keen to hear other's thoughts about what their companies do to make this work.  Also keen to hear examples of where it falls apart.

mattpalmer's picture

There are a huge number of issues with telecommuting and remote working, but people have been doing it successfully for a lot longer than Yahoo has been around.  My "back of the postage stamp" take on the subject is that it isn't *as* easy to build relationships with people who aren't physically co-located, and you need to be a little more mindful of keeping up the quality and quantity of communication.  You can't just let communication happen "naturally" -- you've got to pick up the phone (or webcam) and talk to people.  Communicating commander's intent and details clearly is much more important, also, as the opportunity for getting quick clarification is reduced.

As far as Ms. Mayer's edict goes, it's hard to tell from the outside, but it doesn't seem like a completely dumb move.  If there aren't good relationships and across-the-board management in place, and there isn't the luxury of time to gradually reshape the organisation to make that happen, applying a big shock, bringing everyone together, and straightening things out is probably the least-worst option.  Think of it as like boot camp -- you start tough, get things under control, then relax a little and give more leeway once people have gotten into a disciplined (productive) frame of mind.

DR_1967's picture

If the reason for ending working from home is to build "community" then they still have alot of work to do.  I work with numerous people in the office who would be easier to work with if I did not see them everyday.  Likewise, I work very well with many people whom I see once every 12-18 months.

The key to building an effective culture is to select people who can (and will) work with others and manage their behaviors as needed.  Simple dictates will just cost you good people because they can (and will) go elsewhere.


acao162's picture

We had an employee who was half time in office, half time remote.  It was a disaster.  We had trouble with deadlines, contacts, projects left sitting until "Ann" was in house because it couldn't be worked on while she was at home.  It simply did not work in our environment.  I think Ann tried hard to make it work but it just wasn't a good fit.  She and the team had a great relationship, everyone knew "who does what by when" but it made little difference.  The obstacles were too much.

Ann eventually quit and our new full time in house person has achieved more results in 6 months than anyone though possible.  In fact, the new person being "here" has made the entire team more effective, from front line reception, right up to the board of directors.  If Yahoo has similar results, I guess we're all in for some big surprises.


GlennR's picture

First cent: You can always find one person who failed at something. The post above reflects a problem in hiring, not in where they worked

Second cent: Let us stipulate for a moment that this is the right decision for Yahoo!. It does not necessarily follow that this is the right decision for all organizations. 

Bonus cent: There will be unintended consequences even if it is the right decision, for example, it sounds like a negative impact on employee engagement will result, even if only temporarily.  This may result in additional hiring and training costs. It does not help that Marissa had a nursery built next to her office, something other employees will not be able to do. Frankly, I was appalled at the email from HR, but then I'm from a different culture.

Full disclosure: I work from home one day a week. I am so much more productive. I choose not to work from home full-time because of the lost opportunities for networking in the hall ways. So, I get their position, I disagree with the way they went about it.



gpeden's picture

In my opinion this is a shared problem - ineffective management and unprofessional behavior by remote employees.   Its not really a 'work from home' problem.  While proximity helps its not going to be a cure-all for managers that are asleep at the wheel. I have low-I / high-C software engineers that sit two feet from each other and still send emails rather than having a conversation.  Managing remote employees takes discipline and extra effort.  

Yahoo may have missed an opportunity to admit what they are doing isn't effective and put a plan in place to remedy over time.  Instead I think they sent a message of "There is a new sheriff in town, and the beatings will continue until morale improves".

On the other hand, this might actually be on purpose - to flush the chumps and C-players, etc. to 'self-select' rather than having to go through the work of performance management / firing.

In any event it should be entertaining to observe how this plays out from a WWW/TALA  perspective.



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SteveAnderson's picture
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In my view from the outside, I'm guessing that Yahoo's work from home program probably died the death of 1,000 cuts.  In this case, those cuts were probably in the form of a lack of management and no policies.  If managers were actually, you know, managing, then the poor performers would be on the path to improvement or on the path to personnel action - regardless of whether or not they worked from home or in office.  If there were policies in place about who gets to telecommute (i.e., it's predicated on your effectiveness) and how often, that would probably solve a big part of the collaborative problem they seem to be facing.

As for my organization, I manage a team of consultants who're spread out across four time zones with four in the field and two at the client's office full time.  Collaboration has never been a problem for any of them and really only one has an issue being effective from home.  In fact, the problem I face more often than not is getting them to stop working excessively long hours for which they're not being paid.  If I had to summarize why it works,  it's because we hired people who had strong examples of collaborative behavior in the past.  The people who have unceremoniously left our team in the past were those who didn't have examples of collaborative behavior.  Basically, because of the nature of our work, we always hire as if we're hiring in a downturn.


kddonath's picture

I've been telecommuting now for 10+ years for a major fortune 50 company, so I have some skin in this game.  Some things to consider:

Some companies are spread out geographically in major cities and the cost of office space for the company and the impact of congested commuting makes telecommuting worth looking into.

Having good equipment is super important: good telephone, headset, and office.  Think twice about using a cell phone.  If you have a quieter voice or personality, you'll have to work harder at speaking up.

Got to train the family!  Family can get a little too comfortable with mom or dad working from home.  I had one of my kids crash into the room singing one day while I was on the phone!  They learn.  Usually the intrusions come in cycles.

Maintaining relationships is more of an effort, but the up side is that if you follow the principles in the network building podcast, you'll be better overall at maintaining these relationships.  Maintaining week to week working relationships requires more work, telecommuters have to reach out more for work or more casual communications.  Telecommuting tends to decrease the amount of casual interaction.

If a majority of the company is co-located on a campus or building, then think hard about telecommuting.  May not be a good idea.

Measuring employee performance is the same regardless.  Good measures, feedback and reviews are the same for those on site or those telecommuting.

I think multi-tasking can be more of an issue for telecommuters, so resist the temptation.

Is the ban at Yahoo the right decision?  Could be.  If a majority of the people work at one location and overall performance needs a kick in the pants then maybe.  Or maybe their just not executing on the basics of feedback, reviews, etc. well.  



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Gareth's picture

As someone currently working from home full-time...

To start with (as outlined by Kurt) having good equipment is vital. My definition of working from home is having a dedicated work environment - in my case this means converting one of the bedrooms in to an office with a large desk, office chair, docking station for my work laptop that connects up to a keyboard/mouse, large 23" computer monitor, work broadband connection for VPN, work landline and phone plus headset.

I'm positive you can work from home with a large variation on the above list but it must hinder productivity to some extent.

Travel is a must - In my case I work with a team in Mumbai but also here in the UK. In fact not a single person in the team is in the same city but we speak often and 40% of the time are at the same meetings. I got back from 2.5 weeks in Mumbai yesterday and being able to meet the team there after working together for the last 3 months has made a massive difference.

I did work from home in a role that had zero travel and it was painful - same situation in that not a single person in the team was based in the same city. In this case I do believe the job wasn't suitable for being based outside of an office - mostly the reason I opted to quickly move on (not because I wanted to stay working from home but because it wouldn't ever be office based).



mattpalmer's picture

After everything that Marissa Mayer has changed at Yahoo, there are indications that people don't completely hate it:

So clearly cancelling work-from-home wasn't entirely a disaster.

duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

Didn't Napoleon say an army marches on its stomach?  How can free food not lift an approval rating?  ("Grin", as Matt would say)

GlennR's picture

It wasn't so much the fact that she prohibited work from home as the way it was communicated to the employees. "Ham-handed" is the word that comes to mind. That's the lesson we, as managers, can learn from this. "It's not what you sell, it's how you sell it." I would urge anyone about to communicate change to their employees and internal customers to read up on change management do's and don'ts.



Jamesy's picture
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I just inherited a new team of techies that routinely work from home and I feel we are largely ineffective as the interaction and collaboration is virtually non-existent. They have not had a manager in over two years and essentially run amok. Any thoughts on how to combat this? Outright ban? Limit WFH days to designated days only (Tues, Wed), etc...

Kevin1's picture

Another thing to do is to work out how you can quantify what you call ineffective.  Are projects late?  Are they poor quality?  Does specified work not get completed?

if you can quantify the problem, you can have them brainstorm the causes and solutions.  If they come up with WFH as a problem the can be improved upon, then most of what you are looking for will come from them and if it comes from them, it is more likely to be done.

kind regards


Jamesy's picture
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Thanks for your comments - my responses are inline below.

Are projects late? No defined dates for projects "because that is how so-and-so did it". I will need to corral that attitude immediaetly.
Are they poor quality? Other groups have complained about work quality and coordination of tasks between my team members.
Does specified work not get completed? Too soon to tell.

donm's picture
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The manager tools wisdom is to wait 90 days before making changes. Unless something is obviously failing then it will take 90 days just for you to determine if WFH is the problem or if it is something else. Enforcing existing procedures that are not being followed - I find it hard to believe there is not a procedure of some type for WFH - is not "making changes." So, if there are already formal procedures, I suggest you read them. If they are adequate, then begin asking the team to adhere to the procedures as written. You should send a PDF non-controlled copy as an attachment or at least a link to the official procedure when you let your team know what the rules are.

I have found that poor communications and lax rule enforcement are the cause of many if not most endemic problems, so usually when a problem situation occurs, those are the first two areas I examine. I'd guess that the WFH problems you perceive are a combination of the two.

I would also suggest you listen to the MT podcast on giving assignments. Rather than the entire SMART acronym, MT suggests only the M and the T (coincidentally the M-T of Manager Tools aligns with the mnemonic). The M is "measurable." The T is "Time-based." So, make sure assignments to the team have numbers in them ("I want you to do X things and have the results/code/spreadsheet/drawings in my inbox...") and that there is a deadline (" 4:00 pm Tuesday, January 6, 2015.").

I have found that "close of business" and "lunchtime" are too negotiable. I prefer dates and times as shown in the example. It alleviates any confusion or loop holes. There must be numbers in the assignment and no ambiguity in the time when it will be completed. Get a positive response from your direct after making the assignment. Usually, I have my direct repeat the assignment back to me including the date and time to insure they are aware of the details and ask them to agree. As an example, I'm listening to hear: "I will do X things by 4:00 pm next Tuesday and send you the resultant files via email."

If you make assignments in this manner, there is no doubt if it was completed appropriately and on time, or not. I would guess that the WFH tasks are not being assigned in such a manner from your description as "run amok."

Jamesy's picture
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Thanks for your response - food for thought indeed.

I find it hard to believe there is not a procedure of some type for WFH. No published standard. I have worked at this company over ten years and would often WFH myself and there is no published standard for WFH.
-- It has clearly been taken advantage of by the team I inherited.

I have found that poor communications and lax rule enforcement are the cause of many if not most endemic problems, so usually when a problem situation occurs, those are the first two areas I examine. I'd guess that the WFH problems you perceive are a combination of the two.
-- I agree and am changing both of these. I had a team meeting recently and some team members had no idea what others on the team did after several years working elbow to elbow together. As a result they collectively solved a business related issue within hours of the meeting - a step in the right direction for sure.

I will look for the podcast you mention - I am still getting through the 'basics' series on O3's and feedback but will look for Giving Assignments as a next step.

donm's picture
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