Yahoo’s Report to the Office!

Yahoo's Report ti the Office!

Yahoo's Report to the Office!There was a lot of buzz a couple of weeks ago when Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo had her head of HR send a memo rescinding the Yahoo work at home policy. From all the media coverage at the time you’d have thought this missive would threaten the very fabric of American work life!

The more I read around the issue, though, the less important I think it is. The full text of the HR letter can be seen in this post at AllthingsD.

Besides the enlightening fact that Yahoo has only recently introduced ‘Goals’ – no wonder they’ve been adrift for years – I don’t find the memo to be particularly revolutionary.

Over my career I’ve worked from numerous strange locations, leading co-located teams and globally dispersed teams and about pretty much every variation in between. Some have been more effective than others but I’ve found the glue that holds a team together is a shared goal that everyone is on-board with and in the achievement of which, everyone knows their role. Team building activities remain central to effective performance of the team and that can be difficult with dispersed teams, especially those spanning multiple time zones.

The Yahoo CEO wants to improve collaboration, speed and quality through co-locating her teams in company facilities. If I take an example of something several of my teams are working towards today, we’ve improved efficiency and effectiveness by co-locating teams within a conference room because we found even being spread across adjacent cubes was inefficient for our current phase of work.

Trying to string a process together, an actor would perform his role and e-mail or IM the next actor for the next step. Often that actor was engaged in a different activity and the work just got stuck for 15 minutes or so. Processes that should have been executed in minutes were taking most of the day to complete and troubleshooting often descended into finger pointing.

Bringing the team together into the one conference room still enabled the actors to multi-task on other activities but they were present when needed and the friction of the dispersed team was overcome. Troubleshooting morphed into problem solving and everyone involved got a much better sense of the end-to-end process they were tasked to facilitate rather than their isolated piece of that process.

The key benefit of proximity is access to all the non-verbal communication. Depending on which study you read, 70% or more of communication is non-verbal. Even with high resolution video cameras and screens, the video conference still fails to convey much of that non-verbal communication. Since communication is key to trust, building trust between team members is difficult in dispersed teams and often has to be assumed. It is much simpler to develop that trust through personal, face-to-face, communication.

That said, not all team tasks or activities have to be performed in a war room setting and often, to do their best work, people may need peace and quiet so they can concentrate and focus. But not everyone has ideal conditions at home for their best work. Just as the water cooler at work can provide a distraction, so can kids or spouses in the home, or noises on the street outside. Indeed, as I write this my daughter is watching a cartoon on the TV with the sound unreasonably (to me) high.

I’ve often found solutions to problems in hallway conversations or even elevator conversations. My own experience tells me that the new Yahoo policy has a chance of providing what Marissa Mayer is looking for – improved collaboration and speed. But there remain plenty of work activities that can be performed effectively while away from the office and and plenty or research that shows for some employees their productivity is greater when working from home.

Yahoo will undoubtedly lose those employees that find dragging themselves through the morning and evening commute is not what they want to do day-in and day-out but I doubt Yahoo will end up losing out from rescinding this policy and I doubt Marissa Mayer has lost any sleep over it.