Yahoo: Telecommuting isn't your problem

Yahoo: Telecommuting isn't your problem

Summary: In a strange move, new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer pulled the rug out from under telecommuting employees. It won't help fix Yahoo's problems, but it's interesting to watch.

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What do you do when you don't know what to do? Beat up on your employees, of course. Bad employees — bad! Oh, wait, Yahoo allowed you to telecommute. I mean, it isn't like you just stopped showing up for work and decided to work from home, now, did you? No, of course not. And it's certainly Marissa Mayer's privilege to pull you back into the cubicles from whence you came so that you can be so much more efficient at your jobs. After all, you'll get a lot more work done now that you have to commute to and from work every day, take a lunch break, take your morning and afternoon breaks and have numerous conversations with co-workers. Yes, Marissa, it's way better to have your employees come in and sit at their desks.

Apparently Mayer has never read the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, The hard truth about telecommuting, that states the following in its lede:

"Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

This report clearly is in opposition to Ms Mayer's statements supporting her decision. That's OK, Marissa, you're in good company making bad decisions at Yahoo.

I think that Mayer's decision to stop telecommuting at Yahoo is a scenario that will play out like the movie plot in Wag the Dog. To say that I disagree with her decision is an understatement.

Yahoo's troubles aren't new. In fact, Paul Graham of Revenue Loop, which Yahoo Purchased, expands on the topic with history from an insider's point of view. For more history, check out What's wrong with Yahoo, from SiliconIndia.com (September 2011) and GigaOm's Om Malik June 2008 post, What's wrong with Yahoo.

So you see, Yahoo fans, it's an ongoing, endemic problem.

I would hope that Ms Mayer makes better decisions in her predictably short future as Yahoo CEO, but I won't hold my breath. I wrote short based on Yahoo CEO longevity shown in the list below:

  • Marissa Mayer (July 2012 - present)

  • Ross Levinsohn Interim (2012)

  • Scott Thompson (2012)

  • Tim Morse Interim (2011 - 2012)

  • Carol Bartz (2009 - 2011)

  • Jerry Yang (2007 - 2009)

  • Terry Semel (2001 - 2007)

  • Timothy Koogle (1995 - 2001)

The way I figure it, she has another year or so to fix it, bail, or get the boot. Godspeed, Marissa.

So, what are some possible solutions for Yahoo's problems? Here are my thoughts — free of charge — although I feel somewhat compelled to hold back for a sweet but short-lived CXO position at Yahoo. Alas, I submit my initial 10 thoughts here for your consideration. If Ms. Mayer decides to heed any of them, I'd appreciate the courtesy of a phone call for an interview.

  1. Behave like a technology company: You're not a media company, you're a technology company. Invest in technology and do some innovation.

  2. Listen to your users: I think we need to stop thinking that people and business are different than they have been for the past 6,000 years or so. Listen to your customers, even if you don't think they're always right.

  3. Focus on the product: Hire the best talent. You're in the heart of the best talent pool in the world, take your pick, give them a voice, and move forward.

  4. Dump stuff that doesn't work: Get rid of assets and features that no one cares about. You know what I used to love about Yahoo? The maps. Where are the maps?

  5. Forget redesign: It isn't your design that takes people away from Yahoo. The old design was better. It was easy to find things that you wanted to find. Focus on news and links. Simplicity is your key to success.

  6. Have a workable vision: Forget the silly mission statements that no one listens to. Have a vision and carry it through.

  7. Build employee loyalty: Seriously, has your top talent bailed along with your revenue? The people in your company are its lifeblood. They want to follow a leader with vision, and one who has leadership qualities worth following. Everyone makes mistakes. Admit when you're wrong and fix it.

  8. Ask for help: Every General has advisors who help make decisions. Ask for help from peers, competitors (yes, competitors), employees, and mentors. If you can't ask for help, then you're not a good leader.

  9. Stop worrying about shareholders and worry more about stakeholders: If you spoil your customers, build brand loyalty, and foster a good work environment, how can you lose?

  10. Take some advice from your own news feed: Seven habits of the ultra wealthy.

Marissa, I'm sorry that so many have thrown stones at you (myself included). Your position as Yahoo CEO, in addition to your very bad decision to stop employee telecommuting, has placed you in the firing line. It's not a comfortable place to be and you'll have to grow a thicker skin to survive it. I hope you're open to some good advice as I've outlined in my 10 ideas to improve Yahoo. If not, I won't be offended.

Don't hold one bad decision up as a reason not to like Marissa Mayer. She could turn out to be a very good CEO in spite of this one bump. Nobody's perfect.

As a stone thrower, I'd like to say that I'd take some sage advice from the worldwide audience and make some changes that really matter at Yahoo. Telecommuting is not your problem. It never was. The problems existed before telecommuting. The problems associated with telecommuting are a symptom of the real problem. And, yes, I could do better, though I'll never get the chance to do so.

One final suggestion: See if Microsoft is still interested in buying Yahoo.

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Topics: Telework, IT Employment

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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23 comments
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  • Yep,

    I also thought it was unwise to stop employees from telecommuting. Your ten points are great and I will send the link of this article to my business partner, Thanks a lot.
    sg1efc
    • Yep, here is why it was unwise...

      I have hired and fired many workers over the years. Being "wise" is not something that Marissa Mayer just did. From experience I can tell you that about half of employees work well from home, and the other half abuse it. Being "wise" would be identifying poor work behavior and correcting it. Those with proven at home work results should be rewarded. Most successful at home workers seem to be those that have worked in an office previously and know how to interact with coworkers, and talking on the phone is still interacting. In fact - a capable at home (or remote) work force is a huge advantage to keeping a business running 24/7. Most home workers are very willing to shift hours and be flexible.
      Sean Foley
  • "facilitating workers’ needs for additional worktime"

    Assuming it's not a typo on the original report, if my workers "need" additional worktime, something's very wrong (I'm not counting emergencies). Giving them the benefit of the doubt, if Yahoo! can provide a real, predictable 9-to-5 to its workers, everybody wins.

    I would add an eleventh point: Stop pretending you can become Google.
    Appleris
  • Dump stuff that doesn't work. What, like telecommuting?

    It is your assertion that all telecommuting is perfect and works without flaw in all companies that have used/are using it. That is hogwash. It can work. It can work great. It has to be fostered and nurtured correctly, however, for it to be a good thing.

    I have only known 1 person that "worked" for Yahoo! and he telecommuted. If he had worked for me, I would have fired him. He spent much more time NOT doing Yahoo! work than doing his own thing.

    There is a strong strong possibility telecommuting was fundamentally broken at Yahoo! and I know you don't know the answer. Neither do I.

    So far, I have seen marked improvements in Yahoo!'s properties from Flickr to their new mobile home pages. In fact, all of their mobile properties have shown improvements over the last 6 months.

    Meanwhile, all reporters can do is whine that Yahoo! cut off telecommuting.

    As for "Seriously, has your top talent bailed along with your revenue?". This is simply horrid reporting as you have not even looked at the financials since Mrs. Mayer took over or you would not have written that silly statement.

    Yahoo! has been in serious decline since 2008 or so. It will take a few years to turn that around (if it is possible). Given the massive deterioration of Google's web properties (they are ugly and busy anymore with animated ads even showing up on their main home page. Google's tablet news page is a buggy mess that is almost non-functional) since Mayer left, however, she may be doing many things right.
    Bruizer
    • Different strokes

      I agree, Telecommuting can work, but it takes a certain type of person, very self-disciplined. If the "wrong" people are telecommuting, it can ruin it for those that are suited to it. Likewise if suitable controls aren't put in place, people can abuse it.

      I also see the other side, having worked off-site for 15 years, when I suddenly had to work back at base and use my 15 years of "networking" within the company to find another project, I was suddenly sitting high-and-dry, because I hardly knew anybody at the company.

      In my case, it wasn't telecommuting, I spent 15 years working on customer sites in small teams of 2 - 4 people, many of whom had left the company by the time I went back to base.

      If I had worked centrally for at least a few months each year, I would have known my colleagues, could have networked better and kept betting in contact. On the one side, I was at fault, when I did meet people at annual meetings etc., I didn't stay in contact afterwards, but living in a hotel all week or commuting 5 hours a day, you don't really have the time or energy to keep in touch with "casual acquaintances.
      wright_is
      • It takes good management

        Whether or not a telecommuter spends most of their time doing non-company things is irrelevant...the important thing is, are they getting their jobs done and on time? If the answer is yes, then either give the employee more work or STFU...don't penalize them for being efficient. One of the great things about telecommuting is that it can inspire employees to be more resourceful and efficient just so they can allocate extra time to themselves...something not possible when locked in a cube 8 hours a day.

        Employees that are not being productive out of the office (and certainly there are some that just can't maintain value outside of the office) most certainly should be brought back in. If such employees are disgruntled and quit, do you care? But when a blanket policy reduces incentive and production of valuable employees just so your bottom non-performers don't feel singled-out, it seems awfully backward.
        jvitous
  • 2,3,4 & 5

    To me 2,3,4, & 5 ARE the reasons to end the telecommuting.

    When they were at home they weren't listening to the users.

    I am NOT doing business they way business was done 6000 years ago. I am a mobile business.. I PAY for business email. I depend on being able to get to that email from from a TOUCH SCREEN device anyplace I have an internet connection. I don't want to have to carry a laptop/netbook everyhwhere I go.

    How did they not listen? they hired some really good talent and used it to redesign the product, BUSINESS EMAIL, so it wouldn't work for a mobile based business using a touch screen device..

    They designed a "NEW IMPROVED WEB EMAIL" that wouldn't work on a touch screen device while at the same time developing an mobile email Application for touch screen devices that doesn't access the business email.

    HOW DID THAT STUPIDITY HAPPEN???

    I think is was because they were already taking your advise and the "business" services people were thinking that Business was still being done from a desk top in an office and "mobile services" people think the only people using anything mobile were only interested in "free social networking" so there was no need to make the mobile app work with the business email.

    Maybe if the "business services developers" and the "social services developers" are eating lunch in the same lunch room every day, they will accidently overhear a conversation that might make them stop and say. "WOW.. Who knew that business was now being done on touch screen devices? Maybe we need to make sure our mobile app can do more than get the free email for socializing."

    I pay for BUSINESS EMAIL so I can get away from the useless advertising on the free email system and to keep my BUSINESS life seperate from my SOCIAL life.



    I don't think it will happen if the "business" designers are in the same building with the
    CutRightSharpening
  • Unless the quote from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics was misquoted

    from your article
    "Apparently Ms. Mayer has never read the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, "The hard truth about telecommuting," that states the following in its lede:

    "Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers’ needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."'

    This would appear to be an argument IN FAVOR of Ms Mayer's decision to curtail telecommuting? It's saying that telecommuting has resulted in a less beneficial environment for employees.
    wizard57m-cnet
    • Ken Hess failed reading comprehension in high school

      This is the only conclusion I can come up with.
      BCF1968
    • Wrong

      She stopped telecommuting because she said workers were slacking. The report says that telecommuters work more. Come on people.
      khess
    • Yes, wrong

      The quote says that telecommuting serves to extend work hours for employes while not providing any benefit to them with regard to their familial relations. Thus, it does more for the company than for the employee.
      swenmark
      • Plus...

        The problem is with the hatchet approach she took. Some people are more productive at home, some aren't. She's punishing everyone for the bad actions of some of them. That's a bad management tactic.
        swenmark
      • Which can be very dangerous to morale.

        Which can be very dangerous to morale. An overworked employee is an employee with low morale and ultimately less productive.

        In addition, I am NOT of the belief that our society should be all about work. That's a rather narrow minded view of how our society should be.
        CobraA1
  • Thoughts

    Mostly agreed, however:

    "Have a workable vision. Forget the silly Mission Statements that no one listens to. Have a vision and carry it through."

    A good mission statement is simply a workable vision wrapped up in a small, easy to understand message. If your business and employees are not listening to your mission statement, how can you expect them to follow your vision?

    "Seriously, has your top talent bailed along with your revenue?"

    The answer is a resounding YES. You can thank Microsoft for that.

    "Take some advice from your own news feed. 7 Habits of the Ultra Wealthy."

    I prefer "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey. Far more in depth, and easily one of the best leadership books out there.

    "One final suggestion: See if Microsoft is still interested in buying Yahoo!"

    The problem with that proposed deal was that their cultures were night and day, and the top talent at Yahoo! would never work for Microsoft. The deal was all about the money, and would not have benefited Yahoo! in any other way. There was no way it would have worked out, even if it actually went through. Yahoo! was crippled greatly by even the threat of the deal - most of their top talent actually did leave when they discovered they were about to be bought by Microsoft.
    CobraA1
  • Yahoo ... cringe and shiver !

    After having read the article and the comments I "tried" to spend some time on the Yahoo website. Ouch ... that really hurts. This site still has the charm and appearance of a 90s website. The whole look gives me the impression that someone, who never attended a school of design, tinkered and botched a news website together (over the weekend).
    I'm more than astounded and perplexed that Yahoo can make a living of that mess altogether ?
    EnticingHavoc
    • Their mobile is really good.

      Their desktop version is so-so to bad.
      Bruizer
  • Repaint!

    Since MM took over, if you look away from a Yahoo! page, it will refresh. I assume they're pawning that off as a page view. Sad.

    And I concur with the author; multiple redesigns of the layout are only hurting, not helping. I've given up on Yahoo News; waiting for someone to match their sport page, then I'm done with it too.
    beau parisi
  • Whats wrong with the current crop of designers - Change.

    All the redesigns around the web are all horrible. Perhaps it was all done before so they had to go with crap and more crap to be different.

    Change for changes sake is never a good thing however, it's said Yahoo has a culture problem i.e. a people problem... The quickest way to change that is to change the people. Seems she is on the right track... a bold move but will it work???
    greywolf7
  • Working More vs Effectiveness

    Hi All,
    I would suggest working more hours does not equate with being more effective with the hours spent. Part of the culture at Yahoo! was to collaborate often, working in short develop cycles, get feedback often and quickly iterate through the Software Development Life Cycle. If working from home has caused this cycle to slow down or miss a beat, I could definitely see a major change needing to occur to get things back on cycle. I also think that managers, manage best when they meet regularly with their staff, focus on goals/delivery and have ways of keep tabs on staff to make sure they are not working on other company's work. (a big problem in Silicon Valley).
    rlinger
  • The article is a bit disingenuous

    A more reasonable read of the Bureau of labor statistics suggests that the reason telecommuting is having this effect is because it is being done after hours. People are still going to the office, the telecommuting is being done after the work day is done. It is fair to say that it isn't this that Yahoo is shutting down.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter