Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Do You Yahoo?

with 6 comments

Here’s the question of the day: Do you Yahoo?

And my answer is…yeah, well, sure, but only when I’m in the office.

Because, you know, and we all know, that a cubicle farm is the perfect venue by which to instigate and channel creativity and innovation.

Just ask Dilbert. He’s been stuck in that cartoon cubicle for nearly 20 years, and he’s doing just fine.

I’m referring, of course, tongue in cheekly, to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s new edict that all Yahoo employees must come back to work in the mother ship and that there will no longer be telecommuters.

In her memo, Mayer wrote that “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

To which I would ask, “Show me the money.”

I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades working at IBM, and I would say that my career has been about evenly split: Half in an office, half working from home.

Upon reflection, I’m not sure I could say there was more productivity or innovation that could be attributed to working from one location or another.

While I’m not discounting the serendipitous opportunities for mixing it up that can come through working in a physical office with colleagues, I can attest as well that it can have the opposite effect — too many interruptions, too many meetings, too much lost productivity.

For me, work is a state of mind and being, not a location. It’s something that I do, not a place that I go.

The technologies that IBM and others have built have eliminated the perceived need for constant physical proximity.  Using IBM Notes, Sametime, and Connections our world is one big virtual office, with more than enough software capability to bind us together in a seamless fabric, one that increasingly transcends both space and time.

And perhaps that’s another key difference.

In a global company like IBM, we typically work daily with people from around the world.  But I can’t wake up Monday morning and decide I need to drop by the office in Bangalore. That’s typically a 20+ hour journey from Texas, and as far as commutes go, that would probably be on the outer boundaries of long commutes!

But I can virtually stop by Bangalore daily, chatting with colleagues via instant messaging, or at minimum exchanging emails or posts in our internal IBM Connections platform.

The Wall Street Journal’s AllThingsD columnist Kara Swisher writes on this topic this morning, with the headline “Despite Yahoo Ban, Most Tech Companies Support Work-From-Home for Employees.”

She calls out IBM in particular, citing that “IBM was one of the first global companies to pioneer programs to reduce employee commuting. It has sustained these programs for nearly two decades. Two key aspects are its (a) work-at-home program and (b) mobile employees program. Today, more than 128,000 (29 percent) of employees globally participate in one of these programs. In 2011, in just the U.S. alone, IBM’s work-at-home program conserved approximately 6.4 million gallons of fuel and avoided more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.”

To that point, I figure in the 10+ years I’ve been working remotely, I’ve probably saved close to $20,000 in gasoline and auto maintenance costs.

I’ve also been spared the agony and utter un-productivity of wasted time spent in traffic. That’s at least another 500 hours saved over ten years, time that I can either give back to myself or, as is often the case, back to IBM.

Of course, I recognize Yahoo is also an exceptional case at the moment.

Marissa Mayer is trying to turn a culture around that has been stagnating, and through this announcement she will no doubt drive people away from the company that the company may well be better off without.

On the other hand, I’m not sure wrangling the herd of Yahoo cats back to the home ranch is going to serve as the needed combustible recipe that puts the innovative spark back in the Yahoo innovation engine.

In a year or two down the road…and I mean that quite literally…I can’t help but think the answer to that wonderful, brand-promised question: “Do you Yahoo?”

The answer’s going to increasingly be, “I used to, but I just got sick and tired of the commute.”

Written by turbotodd

February 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Nice post Turbo. Couldn’t agree more with your points. I’ve been working full time from home the past 3+ years and work daily with colleagues in Australia and the Philippines. Having late night meetings is not burdensome exactly because my office is in my home. My work days start early every day, but not having to get up and get formally dressed and drive through traffic to get to a desk with the same exactly computers on it, saves me time – time which is spent at work.

    As with all jobs, its all about what you produce. My whole team is distributed throughout the world, yet somehow we collaborate, innovate, and deliver quality software regularly.

    Good luck to Ms. Mayer, but I can’t imagine this turning out well for Yahoo.


    February 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    • Jack, thanks for your input. It seems we’re not the only handful of folks with this perspective. There was quite a bit of outcry across the industry about this move, to the point that Yahoo issued another statement clarifying this wasn’t a broader commentary about telecommuting in general, but a move specific to their current business conditions. Now, get ready for those evening calls! : 0


      February 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      • Ultimately I see it as a management issue, not a proximity issue. If a culture has developed at Yahoo where remote employees are not working, then that should be easy to solve, using standard measures of productivity.

        If the issue REALLY is that Yahoo feels having people next to each other breeds productive, innovative conversations, then mature technologies already exist to foster that remotely. Using tools like IM chat, Lync/Webex/Livemeeting and the good old phone, I feel as I gain all the advantages of spontaneous, “water cooler” conversations.

        I still believe that the negative perception of the management style at Yahoo, partly based on this decision, will reap effects. Only time will tell.


        March 1, 2013 at 5:51 pm

  2. I must chime in and say that I’m definitely more productive since becoming a full-time work at home/mobile employee. I used to spend 45 minutes driving each way, to and from the office, in heavy traffic, and it caused a lot of stress and aggravation in my life. I don’t think I could do nearly as much as I do now that I have more flexibility. Since “quitting the office,” I am much more comfortable taking on greater challenges and responsibility. I think it has to do with having more control over my schedule and my environment.

    I’ll admit that there are drawbacks. There can be a tendency to work too much, and let it negatively impact your personal life, and I sometimes feel isolated and miss being around people. However, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and I would not want to go back, at this point.


    February 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    • All I can say to that is “Amen.” I think about all those hours I spent stuck in traffic in the first half of my career…oy vey!


      February 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm

  3. Read an interesting piece on this today, and what stood out was that Yahoo has no more than 500 remote workers, out of thousands. If that is indeed the case, then the impact of this decision is lessened, and it also calls to question why such a small percentage of employees would have such a large impact on Yahoo’s ability to collaborate and innovate.


    March 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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