Management Matters – Work from Work

The water cooler is buzzing about Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to inform employees that as of June, they will be expected to be in the office. Working from home will no longer be an option. Many people are not actually around the water cooler to talk about this because they are not IN the office – so they are reacting, posting, and tweeting online.

Whether you think it is a watershed moment, a blow to parenting or a smart move that will help Yahoo! improve performance, Business Insider seems to think that Yahoo! was simply not managing the remote workforce well.  They offer some ideas about what managers should be doing so that employees can take advantage of working from home, but won’t abuse the privilege. There is even a slide deck proclaiming the end of the office as we know it. But Business Insider may not be talking to the same people I am.

Just a few days ago, I met with a C-Suite Executive who told me her concerns about a senior level manager who was in the office less and less. Outside appointments scheduled at certain times of the day made it seems cumbersome to return to the office. When she was working from home, it made her not just appear inaccessible, but phone calls went straight to voice mail. Employees turned to each other and other on-site managers because she was unavailable. When she was seen strolling through a grocery store doing the weekly shopping in the middle of the day, her boss felt that trust had been betrayed – irrevocably.

The flexibility to work from home can make a stressful blending of work and life a little less difficult. Ask anyone who has sat in the Washington DC (Boston, NYC, LA, Atlanta) rush hour traffic grid lock about flex-time and they’ll grimace as they tell you about 2 hour commutes. Then they will smile when they admit that they now drive in later or earlier and the commute is only 45 minutes. 

It isn’t that employers like Yahoo! don’t want happy employees. They do! They get the connection between happiness and retention. At Yahoo! employees get free food and free smart phones! There is a price tag associated with that and Yahoo! is willing to invest in the happiness of its employees -- to a point.

Not everything that is old school should be replaced. The office allows people to connect with one another and develops an organizational esprit de corps. Everyone is more accessible and observable.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was told that in-person training, facilitating and one-on-one meetings would go the way of the horse and buggy. Go-To-Meeting, Skype, chat rooms and Smart Boards with streaming capability would make my job as a management consultant all but obsolete.

I have found however, that nothing can replace an in-person meeting for picking up the clues and cues that happen in interpersonal interaction. While technology augments my job, most clients want to get what they pay for – and it’s qualitatively different when we are not in the same room. 

Perhaps flex time and working from home are perks that go to employees who have proven their worth. Not a blanket benefit for all, but something that is earned.  When trust is broken, that benefit can be taken back.

That then, may be the most challenging part of managing. To retrieve something that someone appears to be unable to handle rather than cross your fingers and hope that they will rise to the occasion because you’ve asked them to.


Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 20 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at http://jonidaniels.com.

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