I’ve always found in corporate life that the decisions you make, the policies you develop, rarely have consequences so severe that they shake you to your core. Until now.
The recent decisions of two organizations force us to rethink the policies we create, and what we demand of our workers. One requires us to reevaluate how we manage, the other what it means to be human.
Yahoo’s CEO either ignited a firestorm or opened a debate on the value of telecommuting. Yahoo informed all their remote workers that they would no longer be allowed to work out of their homes and by June they had to return to their desks at Yahoo’s offices. Those who refuse will be asked to resign.
What makes the decision so surprising for some is that Yahoo is led by one of the few female CEOs running a Fortune 500 company and one who just had a baby. Surely she would be more sensitive to the issues facing workingwomen today. But before we declare that the glass ceiling is clearly now impenetrable and predict that this is the beginning of the end for family friendly employment policies, think again.
Allowing employees to work from home still makes good business sense for many organizations. Technology has made it possible for many to work anywhere without the need to take up valuable corporate real estate. While Yahoo believes their remote workers will be more productive in their company offices, allowing greater collaboration and sharing of ideas, independent studies have shown that home based workers work longer hours per week and are much more productive on average than regular workers.
Telecommuting remains a powerful recruitment and retention tool. Employees seeking, maybe even demanding, greater flexibility and work life balance flock to companies that offer this benefit. Most technology firms employ it, allowing them to compete for the best and the brightest employees. It isn’t a coincidence that 85 of Fortunes “100 Best Companies to Work For” have telework programs. It is a must to be able to effectively recruit and retain star performers.
While many see this as a benefit demanded by women who balance work and child care issues, studies show more men are actually working remotely. For so long, no one questioned the value of telecommuting.
But before we dismiss Yahoo’s decision as another dumb move made by a company struggling to regain its footing, employers and employees need to understand that telecommuting has its drawbacks. Employers’ concerns about productivity are real. Some employees need the discipline of a corporate environment and it is tough to be productive with the distractions of a home.
Managers also find it hard to manage remote workers. Fostering a team environment, creating collaboration and simply bouncing ideas around, all essential ingredients for both productivity and innovation, can suffer when employees are not together under the same roof. And finally, telecommuting hurts careers. When employees are not physically present, the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome sets in, often hurting one’s chances to climb the corporate ladder.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, has not killed telecommuting. It still makes sense for many companies. What she did, however, is put the policy on the table for critical discussion
While Mayer opened up a healthy discussion of a corporate policy, Glenwood Gardens, a California assisted living facility’s policy violated every tenet of what it means to be human. One of its staff refused to give CPR to one of its residents who had collapsed, citing policy—and this decision was defended by the facility’s management, even after the resident died.
When you’re able to get over your shock and outrage, try to step back and think about the value we put on compliance to policy—particularly our zero tolerance policies. In our desire for consistency, in our need to send messages, we put adherence to certain polices as sacrosanct. Pushed to extremes, never looking at extenuating circumstances, we make stupid decisions. Most are not harmful. Rarely are they fatal. This one was.
Both Yahoo and Glenwood Garden’s polices force us to take a closer look at how we operate our businesses. No polices are absolute. All require periodic review.
Polices are designed to bring uniformity and consistency. Companies create them to maintain control. Some do what they are intended; others fall short and require change. None should do harm.