I understand why Yahoo CEO Melissa Meyer “pulled the plug” on remote team members. I groaned when the news broke, but it’s the right decision for Yahoo now. And it’s not an indictment against distributed teams. She needs to show the world a different Yahoo than the one we see today. Yahoo is trying to execute a make-or-break turn-around, which means everything about the “old” Yahoo needs to be questioned, including policies that once gave Yahoo an edge in recruiting against their Bay Area competition.
Until a few days ago, Yahoo, along with many other Silicon Valley tech companies, embraced the “work from where you’re most efficient” model. But now Yahoo no longer has the luxury of a robust stock price and gilded image, and if there can be a positive gained from this HR policy change, it has to be investigated. The “shoulda-woulda-coulda” post-mortem will not suffice if there is no happy ending to the Yahoo story.
Aside: Many pundits are speculating this is a calculated move to rid Yahoo of slacker “dead wood” employees. Or it could be that Yahoo doesn’t really know who in the ranks are “the makers versus the takers.” The real answer is probably all of the above. The thinking is filter out the slackers by forcing everyone to commute to the office.
Harnessing the power of a distributed team is a balancing act. Not all people can or should work physically separate, but some job roles, especially individual contributors, can actually be more successful if people are allowed to “create” in the environment most suited to their individual work style. Cracking the distributed team code isn’t hard to decipher. It’s one part awesome communication and one part mandating a company-wide collaboration style that treats the distributed folks as first class citizens. When everyone is distributed then there is no problem, it’s only when the “center of gravity” shifts toward a central location. Sometimes it takes more effort to work this way, but that is offset by the gains of an all-inclusive, productive, dispersed team.
I’ve been observing legacy IT behemoths like IBM, HP and Microsoft push their white collar workers into home offices. Steelcase, Knoll and others are redesigning office furniture systems for the teams of the future. It’s all about fluid designs that promote ad-hoc meetings, less about being anchored to a stationary desk. These designs all assume people are working remote to some extent.
If Yahoo seems “broken,” it’s not because remote people stifle innovation. There are larger systemic issues at play and lot’s of history to unravel. But who knows, maybe a serendipitous hallway conversation between two “Yahoos” that don’t normally see each other might yield the great epiphany that saves the day. Still, pulling people into the office feels like a knee jerk “austerity measure” that might cause more harm than good.