Working in the Office by

Marissa Mayer and Yahoo are getting a surprising amount of heat for a recent decision to have Yahoos work in the office, or quit.  A lot of people take issue with this.  They rightly point out that if “working from home” isn’t working, it isn’t the failure of the little people working from home, it is a failure of management and middle management.

That’s true.  However, when layoffs happen, that usually isn’t the fault of the factory worker or the person working to write code – it is usually the fault of management execution.  Consequences of company failure are visited first on the people lowest on the corporate ladder.  Life isn’t fair that way – certainly corporate America isn’t fair that way (or corporations anywhere for that matter).

The question is, if you’re trying to affect and instill a new, healthy culture, how do you do that with people who are dispersed, remote, not plugged in to what is going on?  How do you create the synergistic, random conversations in the hall and over lunch or coffee?  How do you get the best out of your team as a whole?

There’s going to be some fall-out at Yahoo from this decision, no doubt.  But had Yahoo never had this work-from-home culture, no doubt there would be less of a problem with the decision.

This discussion is kind of the flip side of a conversation we’ve had on our blog over the years – in answer to the question “Why do we have an office at BP3?“.  We have an office for the value it brings:

  • center of gravity / mass for the team
  • a place to collaborate effectively
  • quality work environment for those who don’t home-office
  • random magic that happens when people discuss their work

Now, on a day like today when everyone chooses to work from home, you lose that value. I’ve had people ask me why we don’t just save the money on rent and work from home.  We’ve seen other consulting companies do that, and the net-net seems to be that they run out of gas.  They don’t end up building something that will outlast the founders’ energy.  When the energy wanes, so does the company.  It is hard for team members to feel like they’re more than just contractors to a body shop.  That’s not what BP3 is.  That’s not what we aspire to be.  And so the office will continue to be a part of our culture going forward.

Meanwhile, working from home is a responsibility, and it sounds like at Yahoo, some people were taking advantage or not holding each other accountable.  I’ve seen some very large companies, with very strong culture, lose it because they let working from home dominate their culture – often to save a few dollars on real estate or phones or other infrastructure costs.  The result is that their offices look like abandoned buildings, and after a certain critical mass gives up on the office, even people who prefer to work in an office with coworkers stop bothering. Correcting this trend is really hard.  I haven’t seen a company the size of Yahoo pull it off yet.

But for those Yahoos that are upset about the new policy – there’s good news.

  1. Jobs are plentiful outside of Yahoo.  If working from home is critical, you’re probably doing yourself and Yahoo a favor if you quit and take that other job.
  2. If you’re invested in staying at Yahoo, Marissa and team are inviting you to get more engaged in fixing it.  Get in there and help.  And when things are back on the rails, then you can push for an exception to the work from home rule, with better measurement and accountability for those who do it.
  3. Fixing and re-energizing culture is fun.  You might actually enjoy collaborating with teammates you had forgotten about at work.  It might be a little reunion for you. Join the party. At the very least, if you’re staying, take advantage of the new opportunities that will be afforded by being in the office – to work with new teams, on new things.

I hope Yahoo is able to turn it around. This step may push some people out, but hopefully the core team that remains will be happier, more collaborative, and more aligned.

Looks like some Yahoos agree on Quora:

If we want to change, compete, and make a come back all hands have to be on deck, in meetings, contributing ideas, involved, etc.

People will use the argument that look at Google and how it allows employees to work from home. My question would be have you seen their P&L? They make boatloads of money.

We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask. If you don’t like it well too bad, the exit door is over there.

Shaku, a friend from IBM BPM days, has a fantastic writeup of the pros and cons of working from home:

I did both.  I worked for a great start up and showed up everyday, sat at my desk and commuted back home.  I then worked for IBM where I had the option of turning up at my Burnett office or working from home.  I can see both sides of the coin and I can understand that it is not a heads you win, tails you lose option.

She gives it a more structured argument for showing up to work:

  1. Connection (with other people) and building something larger than yourself (exactly how I feel about BP3)
  2. Collaboration – who can argue that collaboration is improved by being remote?
  3. Cooperation – absolutely easier in close proximity
  4. Community – A sense of social engagement with the company is important and healthy.
  5. Communication – ”  There is a reason why our sellers are on the road most of the time.  They know that face time (not Apple’s product) is persuasion time.  They know that likeability is a strong factor in getting their foot in the door.  That is also why we continue to host big events all over the world, in spite of technology making it possible to convey all this knowledge through virtual worlds.  There is still no substitute for a handshake.”

And the defining “con” of working from home is the lack of boundaries in your life- taking calls at all hours of the day and night. My favorite point, however, was her last:

Besides innovation is contagious.  It is like a virus.  Try it.  Get into a room with other people who are engaged, positive and want to change the world.  You will walk out with many ideas.

And this is why startups are increasingly working in co-working spaces or incubators – because the work is contagious.  Far from the “work at home” prototype, startups go the other extreme – everybody at the office. And it seems to work.

I choose to (mostly) work at the office.

  • http://twitter.com/ShakuS Shaku Selvakumar

    Great post and thank you for the shout out. I have also heard from many about the sense of isolation they feel when they work from home. The “us” vs “the corporate HQ” syndrome. A flexible work environment where you commute and have the option telecommute could hit the ball out of the park.

    • http://www.bp-3.com/blogs sfrancis

      I not only felt that isolation telecommuting with a company, but also telecommuting as an independent contractor (in a previous life). Life sounded good: commute was ten steps to the “office” over the dog that was usually sleeping in the hall. I could go play ultimate frisbee during lunch, had plenty of “free time” to socialize. But I was out of the flow of normal life. This is why people go to the coffee shop – to see other people while working alone or telecommuting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1154920278 Bill Wentworth

    Great post Scott! Having the flexibility to work from a coffee shop or at home became the norm for many years. I enjoyed it and, frankly, miss it. However, I’d miss my job even more. Although I struggle with the expectation to work from the office every day, I do understand a little bit more why I am required to be in my “Burnet Rd” office.