Just a couple of weeks ago, in Austin we celebrated the Work from Home Day. Well, it wasn’t that big of a deal in the Zoho Austin office because we have a very flexible work schedule, and people work from home every now and then.
Then, a few days ago Yahoo! announced that they are ending all work-from-home and remote-work arrangements they had for most of their employees. That’s just a shame, Kara Swisher over at AllThingsD reprinted the internal memo.
It’s embarrassing to the technology industry that such a high-profile company like Yahoo! would take this step. While Marissa Mayer has taken some steps to googlify Yahoo! with free lunches and free iDevices, I think she has gone too far here in her googlification. I guess what most people miss here is that Google is also not a very remote-work friendly place. That may have changed, but at least it was not a few years ago.
Of course, you can say that we at Zoho have a vested interest in remote work since all of our software runs in the cloud, and well, our tagline does happen to be “Work Online”. But we also live by it.
For example, the Zoho Marketing team is distributed across 4 locations in 2 continents, spanning 3 different time zones. I only physically see some of the people in the team a few times a year. Meera, who heads our Social Media team and is one of the voices behind @Zoho, splits her time from two cities. And at some point last year she was working from London. At any given time I’m not sure exactly where she is at, and I don’t particularly care, because I know she’s online somewhere, working, and most importantly, continues to deliver results.
Now, does this kind of arrangement work for everyone? It varies. There are some positions that are more suitable to this than others. For example, we do ask most of our sales team members to be at the office on a regular basis. But that’s of course because we want to make sure we can help customers over the phone when they call us.
But that could change in the future. There are companies like LiveOps and Alpine Access that enable this sort of arrangement. And having front-line customer-facing people answering inbound calls from their homes is in fact a growing trend.
Although there is mounting evidence of the shift towards remote work, one could hardly find any fault with companies that are slow to adopt this. But Yahoo!’s case is egregious because they are affecting people who had already made arrangements and planned for this. Hey sure, I get this is better than a layoff, but if these people were delivering results while being away, so what’s the big deal? If they were not, well, maybe they had a different kind of problem.
While there are some small pockets of support for this move, the huge backlash Yahoo! is already facing across the blogosphere was expected. And if Yahoo! was not prepared for it, then somebody needs to get fired. Even Richard Branson has come out against this move.
The saddest part about this is that if Yahoo! needs to have their employees within close sight just so that they can keep tabs on them, then Yahoo! is in a deeper hole than we all thought.