Freedom to work

Yahoo has called in all their remote workers. Come June, they’re either sitting at desk in Silicon Valley or they’re looking for another job.

I’d be looking for another job. Not because of having to go the office everyday, but because they’re trying to solve the wrong problem. It seems like they feel if people are bound to a schedule, working in an environment where they can be controlled, everything will sort itself out.

Were I work, people set their own schedules. Whether they’re working from home or in an office. There are no office hours, no controls, no micromanagement. And yet it works. It works because of two main cultural values: respect and care.

Respecting the individual. Caring for the individual

Respect is not limited to treating people politely. It is respecting them as individuals, it is understanding that each person is different, works in different ways, has different challenges or circumstances that need to be dealt with. However, it is more than just acknowledging it, it is doing something about it. It is caring enough to want help.

Applying these values in a work environment between employer/employee, between team members is what makes the difference. And it makes a very important difference.

An employee needing flexible hours can either be faced by an employer who makes excuses about why it won’t work out or someone that is willing to help accomodate the employee. Helping this person out shows them that their employer cares enough about them as an individual. And if there is respect, this behaviour then becomes reciprocal.

These values needs to be applied to all aspects: between colleagues, teams, an individual’s work, the collective work, the project and on a more global scale, the goals of the company.

The culture of mistrust.

It is the feeling of respect and caring for each other, and the things we do that builds up and creates a relationship of trust.

Mistrust on the other hand emerges  as soon as you ask someone to clock in/out. When you ask them for detailed daily reports, you’re saying that you’re not sure if they’ve actually been working all day.  When you micromanage, you’re telling them, that not only do you not trust them, but you don’t respect them enough to be more than an insignificant cog in the machinery.

This creates tension. It leads to parties disrespecting each other. And as this happens, people stop caring. Why care about something you don’t respect? As a result, efficiency drops. Employers lose. Teams lose. The company loses. The individual loses.

It becomes another 9 to 5 job for a pay check.

Perks don’t buy respect 

A spokesperson for Yahoo writes:

[Marissa] Mayer is happy to give Yahoo employees standard Silicon Valley benefits like free food and free smartphones…”

Free donuts, constant flow of coffee and sodas are great. But if there is no respect, it means very little. Perks alone don’t buy respect or fulfil individuals. They are the icing on the cake. But there needs to be a cake.

Taking freedom away from people by forcing them into a 9 to 5 schedule on-site and then saying you’ll give them a mobile phone is not going to solve anything.

Care for people. Respect them. Give them the freedom to work. They’ll give you their best.

5 thoughts on “Freedom to work

  1. Michael

    I think her job is to lay off people and since firing people is not really welcome anymore there must be another way to convince the employees.

    Doll’s kitchen. Top managers (on top of the hierarchy) decide if teddy bear Jim, Ken or Barbie are allowed to drink more or less non existent virtual tea from empty cups – budgeting. If you just look at the distribution of money in a company or abstract quantities (number of support calls handled in what time time for example), values that can be expressed as key figures, you will make false decisions in the big picture on a mid term. The problem is the doll’s kitchen and their inhabitants, better said ignoring the fact that pets run your company.

    I know many of these strange ideas, bring-in devices, shared offices, international benchmarking of IT costs … indeed can make sense but mobilizing people in order to save costs … is the false intention. If your employees sit at home because a manager wanted save money for rent it’s false. If a manager decides to sell this idea in order to create a positive image for the brand, it’s insane there is no win/win – Neither Yahoo does not create any value nor does Google. Creating no value even at 0 cost does not make sense. They simple create virtual GDP and GDP when the company is sold – asset transfer. The latter is in the focus I think. It’s never the customer.

    The ‘neo liberalism’ is following a vendor centric approach from a systemic perspective but on the other hand the vendor must sell the illusion of focusing on the customer. I cannot and will not judge on Yahoo but clerks will not help, investors – banks? Investor’s thinking. Most of them live in doll’s kitchen and think they would be Ken. Let’s wait until Big Jim arrives unties the rhino, then there will be fury in the slaughterhouse – when those who focus on customers and results will return.

    If you are running spending cuts you should not cut of 10% everywhere, for example. Work is no longer tied to a material flow, especially not at Yahoo. Today cost for humans is general expense/burdon. Craftsmen are different but the more huge a corporate does become the less the individual’s work directly impacts the result/product in an observable fashion.

    The logic in many cases – there is a problem that is tied to a human’s work – get rid of the human, get rid of the problem.

  2. Jason

    I completely agree with the sentiments expressed in this blog post around the importance of trust and the psychological contract between employers and employees; an environment without trust is disadvantaged from the start. My comment here is more in response to the general trend of representing the Yahoo situation in a way that puts all of the emphasis on the unpleasant *side effects* of what is going on there, and not to hypothesise over how unpleasant it may have been before this happened.

    I think there are two points that jump out at me:

    1) We only really know about this situation that which has been reported publicly. Even with accounts directly from current Yahoo employees, it is very hard to represent an accurate picture of the situation including the general mood / feeling within the business. Quite often the most vocal people are the ones on which it has had the most significant effect!

    What we don’t know is how many Yahoo employees welcome this move vs how many disagree with it.

    If I were a hard-working Yahoo employee, remote or otherwise, who respected the trust between employer and employee (it is almost indisputable that the trust existed at some point for remote working to be such a core part of the business model) I think I’d be grateful that action was being taken to deal with the not-insignificant number of my colleagues who were in breach of that trust.

    Absolutely this might be an apt point to reconsider whether Yahoo was the right place for you or not; and for some, this move might be the very thing that convinced you to stick with what may have previously seemed like a sinking ship.

    2) Could it be the case that the situation at Yahoo had been allowed to get to such a point that it was necessary to almost “start again from the beginning”. If the evidence collected suggested that the business was being crippled by a percentage of employees who were close to 0% productive (anecdotally) in a remote working environment, would you not take the approach that this was an issue that needed acting on immediately for the sake of the business.

    I haven’t seen any figures that would help us global spectators understand the true significance of the current remote working situation on Yahoo as a business. On a very simple level, you could imagine a situation along the lines of:

    MoneyOut = (RunningCosts + EmployeeCost)

    MoneyIn = (AdvertisingCost + GeneralGainFromEmployeeEffort)

    While (MoneyIn < MoneyOut)

    You could probably use this formula quite successfully to reduce your employee spend, especially if the data shows that reducing EmployeeCost is not going to affect GeneralGainFromEmployeeEffort (due to very low productivity).

    I'd imagine that what Marissa actually wants to do, is turn the business around (this isn't such a stretch of the imagination seeing as this is pretty much the reason for her joining).

    Growing the business is easier to do when you have a strong collection of individuals working with you. At a time when Yahoo HAS to do something relatively drastic, it seems to me that Marissa may have actually taken this approach:

    "For whatever reason, the psychological contract between employers and employees is sick. This could very well be the fault of the business, however it needs healing. The data suggests that remote working is hurting us so let's stop the bleeding and then take a real look at what's going on. When we have found the underlying problem, we can then tackle that. If that underlying problems happens to be a few cancerous cells, we'll sort that out too. Ultimately, what we're aiming for is to get Yahoo healthy again. Once we know we've dealt with the thing that is making us sick, Yahoo can be discharged."

    Things like remote working can then return, under a restored, healthy psychological contract with all of the essential conditions of trust, respect, flexibility.

    On this topic, a friend said to me:

    "Having been through a number of restructures, with different perspectives each time, the key issue has always been that communication fails. Respect is not maintained by providing people who will be directly and indirectly affected with adequate information to understand the rationale for change, how it will be executed, what to expect when, and how to dialogue about it etc. Without effective communication you lose the care element."

    This is clearly true, and we don't actually know how effective communication has been internally at Yahoo. One could assert that "the patient has not been well informed of the treatment, risks, recovery period & overall prognosis." We can make a resonable assumption though that as observers, we are definitely not well informed (and nor should we be necessarily).

    I hypothesise that as a Yahoo employee being part of something which hadn't been feeling right for some time, I might be sitting there thinking I could cope with a painful operation and a short spell in hospital to feel better again and I might enjoy the freedom that would then bring.

  3. Gleb Chermennov (@chester89)

    I suppose that in Russia the management likes to have control. No, I mean CONTROL – you have to tell your boss what are you doing right now and what is your schedule for the week. And the most creative guys get frustrated because what they do doesn’t usually correspond to schedule. “I’d like to do some refactoring, this part of code is awful” – “Now isn’t the time to do this”. And – guess what – the time to refactor will NEVER come. very sad.

  4. Mike

    Hadi, I was of the same opinion as you when Yahoo’s move was announced, but recently I have opened up to another possibility.

    Given I’m an outsider to Yahoo’s goings on, I know that when I think they are not respecting people or demonstrating what appears to be a lack of care – I feel that I am doing so because they are a ‘big heartless company’. Maybe they are and maybe no. Maybe they are but not in this instance.

    When I coached companies I always advocate that they get together to figure out what they want to achieve together and set their own vision or gain alignment on something. I believe is necessary as much for a team as a business.

    So I entertain the possibility that Mayer has taken the helm of Yahoo and at recognises that there is no cohesion anymore, perhaps no trust. How to rebuild?

    One way is to physically bring people together, to help them rediscover each other and regain comradeship around a compelling idea. Perhaps this is what lies at the heart of the recent no-remote working directive. I sincerely hope so.

    The key question in my mind is what that compelling idea/vision is. Without it, this move will prove disastrous, with it, she might just be able to save a company that help define the internet age and halt its slow decomposition.


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