Last Friday, Yahoo human resources boss Jackie Reses sent out a memo telling remote employees that they needed to be physically working in Yahoo offices by June.
If they decided that was something they couldn’t do (or wouldn’t do) then they should quit.
This set off a bit of a firestorm of opinion. All negative. Most of the posts I’ve seen have been citing various studies about the effectiveness and benefits of remote work arrangements as a means to make their point.
I was surprised at my intense reaction to this negative armchair quarterbacking, namely because I don’t really have a dog in this fight and I’m a well-known proponent of remote work (hell, my office is in Chicago but I live in St. Louis).
In particular I was disturbed by the various posts by women who were bashing Marissa Mayer’s ‘archaic viewpoint and setting women back 20 years’. But here’s my problem with the entire thing, Marissa is incredibly smart. She’s proven her abilities in not only leading, but thriving in a really difficult fast-paced environment.
Why is it that we demand a blanket rule about something as case-specific as remote work? Any time we take an all or nothing position on something, we disclose our points of view as blind zealotry. It apparently doesn’t matter *why* Marissa implemented this change, yet I think it should. We’re unable to give her the benefit of the doubt as to whether making this really tough decision outweighed the other options. All we know is that progressive companies have been moving towards remote work and that it has proven in most cases to be beneficial to both the company and the employees.
Do you really believe that Marissa Mayer, a Valley veteran, doesn’t understand this point of view? Do you really believe that she didn’t weigh the negative aspects of the choice, including those of PR backlash?
The Here And Now
There are obvious culture issues at Yahoo, issues that have made remote work become a problem at *this* time in *this* place. I completely understand the negative opinion that sees her choice as potentially giving other companies pause when it comes to their own decisions about remote work. I think it may do exactly that. But is that her problem? Should she be more worried about being a figurehead for remote work than she is the literal *survival* of the company?
Make no mistake, this decision absolutely sucks for those employees who were hired with an understanding they could work remote. But does it suck as much as *everyone* losing their job when they go out of business?
Been There Done That
You and I have the benefit of hypothesizing the circumstances, of applying our own unique bias to their unknowns. It’s damned easy to sit and be critical of a choice like this. But I’ve sat in the chair that had to decide what to do when faced with choices that were all offensive. Choices that meant people would be unhappy, would lose their jobs, or would close entire offices. Choices that would send families with children back to their original countries because I could no longer sponsor them. Choices that were well and truly simply awful.
For me, I think she deserves the benefit of the doubt for having picked the lesser of two evils. Choices that past management should have made much earlier but didn’t have the courage to make.
The Big Picture
Pull yourself out of the shoes of the employee who just got screwed for a second and look at the larger picture. If Yahoo does not survive through the very near term, no one will have a job. That means doing some things that a lot of people aren’t going to like.
I don’t like the idea of needing a culture reset so badly that you’re willing to rein in remote work until that happens. But I can visualize how one might get backed into a corner to make that choice. The proof will be in the pudding as they say, and I think that’s what a lot of remote work proponents including myself are afraid of. That she will turn things around and other companies will think “then that’s what we need to do to”. But again, that’s not her problem and I’d be willing to bet you’d make the same decision if given all the same options. So perhaps give her a break and stop making her a symbol for something she cannot be.
Matt Ridings - @techguerilla