Everyone is commenting on the recent Yahoo memo banning working from home. While most of the discussion revolves around whether allowing employees to work from home is a good idea or not, I want to look at the memo from a CEO perspective.
The first thing I noticed about the memo was that “Jackie,” the head of human resources, signed it. Now everyone knows that the head of HR is not the person making this kind of decision. The decision was a significant change in policy and was certainly going to be controversial. This is the kind of decision that only the CEO – in this case Marissa Mayer – should announce. In general, my rule is to let my executives take credit for all the positive news (best places to work, new employee benefit, etc.) while I take responsibility for policy, particularly anything that is a departure from the past.
Second, it is critical when making a policy decision like this that it be framed in the proper context. The question I always ask is: How will my top performers react? Those top performers in an organization are what provide your competitive advantage in a market, and their engagement is what is most important. I don’t think this decision was made from that perspective. This decision was instead made to address the worst performers. According to the Yahoo memo, part of the justification is that “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
I bet the conversation went something like this: “Do you know we have a bunch of people who never come into the office? I bet some of those people are working on their own stuff instead of their Yahoo job. We need a policy to solve this.”
While all of this may be true, it throws the baby out with the bath water. The real problem is not people telecommuting. The real problem is some people aren’t performing. While I am sure many of the people working at home are low performers, I bet there are also numerous top performers in the group who for one reason or another have found themselves working from home. By writing this memo, Yahoo has now branded everyone working from home as a non-productive worker. They might as well have put a Scarlet Letter on their chest.
If Yahoo really thinks all of these people aren’t being productive, they should fire them and move on. This is the problem with corporate policies that are crafted to solve a problem with the bottom 10%. By focusing on the worst-case exceptions, you don’t solve the real problem and end up offending the top performers who are critical to your business. The real problem is a performance problem. Does Yahoo really believe that just by having people come into an office they will now be productive?