Photo: Owen Thomas, Business Insider
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer surprised many of her employees when a memo went out announcing that employees who regularly work from home need to either start coming to an office, or leave the company.The response has ranged from complete outrage and accusations of unfairness from remote employees, to praise for Mayer’s ability to make a tough and needed decision about a long-term problem she had inherited.
What’s pretty clear from details that have emerged is that Yahoo did an exceptionally bad job at managing its remote workers. People who worked from home were apparently unproductive and so disconnected from the company that people forgot that they worked at Yahoo at all.
Successfully running a remote team requires extra communication and engagement from managers, not less. Occasional emails just don’t cut it, leaders have to genuinely know their remote employees and how to communicate with them to get great work from them. If remote workers were unproductive and disengaged, then it’s at least partially because the company and its leaders let them get that way.
But rather than try to deal with those issues, Yahoo’s chosen just to end remote work completely. That’s understandable. Mayer’s trying to clean house and completely change a company that’s had several CEOs in quick succession. But she may have created a long-term problem.
Advances in technology, changes in preferences, and an increasingly globalized workforce mean that the trend towards remote workers and fewer offices will only grow in the future,
And beyond that, it simply makes sense for companies to put the best possible people for any project together, regardless of where they work. Further, people often have very good reasons for working from home. Some just work better, others have special needs or pressing family issues.
So how can Yahoo and other companies do better in the future? Here are a few general tips.
When people feel like others have a better deal than they do, they start to resent it. It needs to be crystal clear to remote workers, and those who collaborate with them, that just as much is expected from them and that they’ll be evaluated just as rigorously as people who come to the office every day.
Expect more from managers
Supporters of Mayer’s decision point to a bloated organisation and people who barely worked. But clearly, these problems have been building for years. When a manager gets extremely busy, the first thing they’ll ignore is their remote workers. They’re not in the building, so they’re easy to forget. Eventually, that becomes a habit, and you end up with invisible employees.
One of the benefits of having remote workers is flexibility. That can mean less downtime, more collaboration, and better results. It can also mean chaos. Clearly defining who’s working on what and when, and building in mandatory and regular communication is incredibly important.
Remote workers can’t simply be the people you rely on to get something done at 3 in the morning when nobody’s around. That leads to some of the problems Yahoo! faced, where remote workers are basically hiding. If anything, the boundaries need to be more explicit because there’s not the trip to and from the office to bookend the work day.
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