Best Buy Joins Yahoo in Ending “Work From Home” Programs. Oh Boy.
There’s no doubt that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is a trendsetter. The first pregnant woman ever to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company; crowd sourcing her baby’s name; being a successful woman in the very male world of software engineering. But not all trendsetting is positive and with Best Buy’s announcement this week that they are also effectively ending their “work-from-home” program, it appears that companies may now be asking themselves the all important question, “What Would Marissa Do?”
But Yahoo and Best Buy don’t just have ending their work-from-home programs in common. Can you see what else they have in common? That’s right…they both suck. Both companies were great and sitting on top of the world during the last decade. But they failed to evolve, missed major trends and are now mostly after-thoughts in the corporate world trying to do the now incredibly difficult task of a turnaround in fields that are moving at light speeds (kudos to my former employer eBay for actually accomplishing this feat). Yahoo missed out on the social and mobile movement (that’s like missing out on the sun rising) while Best Buy is starting to look a lot more like Tower Records and Barnes & Noble as Amazon, eBay (and Walmart, Costo and most everyone else) have eaten their lunch.
Both Yahoo and Best Buy have sighted the need to have “all hands on deck” while their ships sink, in the name of collaboration and innovation. Of course this makes very little sense as highly innovative and successful companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and most all others, have the availability of flexible arrangements for employees (or at least allow people to meet with the cable guy in person vs. just living the door open with a sign). So, what’s really going on?
I assume it’s safe to say that some of the work-from-home employees at Yahoo were taking advantage of their ineffective managers. Best Buy is saying that work-from-home arrangements can still exist at their corporate headquarters as long as a manager approves (hopefully they have many courageous managers) but there’s more to this. Does it really make sense to cancel a program for all 11,500 Yahoo employees and subject yourself to immense scrutiny when you’re really just trying to get rid of the 200 people currently working from home?
Here’s what I think is really going on. Yahoo and Best Buy are running out of levers to pull to show action to their Board, shareholders, whomever. Ending these programs is a huge Heisman to distract people from the real problems. They’ve tried re-organizations and brought in their “own” people. I’m sure there have been big new visions, bold strategies, countless All-Hands meetings and emails unveiling the “new” Yahoo/Best Buy etc. etc. but at the end of the day the needle isn’t moving fast enough so senior executives start to pull any lever available to them to shake things up. Look at it this way, if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs this season, the Steinbrenner family are unlikely to bring back manager Joe Girardi and while they will say it’s because it’s time for a change (blah blah blah), the reality is that it’s the only lever they will have since it’s not like they’ll be able to find someone else to take on Alex Rodriguez’s massive contract. In the meantime, all the good Yahoo and Best Buy employees who honored their agreement to work as hard and effectively as they could from home for the company will be penalized.
And here’s the other thing. Since when does “all hands on deck” result in collaboration and innovation? Think again of your favorite sports team that imploded (2011/12 Red Sox, 2012 Jets, 2013 Lakers etc.). Guess what? All the players were in the locker room together, no player worked-from-home (well, maybe a few of the Red Sox). Being together in the same place does not even in the least bit guarantee anything. It’s not about having “all hands on deck” it’s about having the “RIGHT hands on deck.” One would expect Ms. Mayer, having worked at Google, would understand that.
Successful collaboration and innovation come from winning. And “winning is the best deodorant,” as ex-NFL coach/announcer John Madden famously said. Work is hard. Working for a successful company – I would argue – is even harder. Your work means more, your colleagues care more, customers and key constituents expect more, and you may even feel that you’re trying to accomplish something bigger than yourself. I have fond memories of trying to get a press release approved by 20 people in just a few hours at a very successful company, and you think getting Congress to agree is hard. But being part of a winning team allows us to forget all the hard days. We care less if Sally is always working from home because all that matters is that she gets results. We don’t have time to care.
A company that has produced breakthrough products that people crave or need, with a clear vision and people that truly care about each other’s well being – that will drive collaboration, innovation and additional success, more than everyone just being in the same place at the same time twiddling their thumbs and discussing why people don’t use Yahoo anymore while staring at yet another top story on their homepage about someone who wrote a mean note to a waiter on their dinner check instead of a tip (seriously, they post one of those every day!). Just because employees are in the office doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be motivated or able to contribute.
At the end of the day, working from home is all about trust. And successful, winning companies have an overabundance of trust going around. From senior leaders-to-employees, from employees-to-senior leaders and from employees-to-employees. I’ve worked at a company where in 12 years I never once doubted decisions made by senior leaders. That’s what makes a winning company. And it seems that at Best Buy and Yahoo, trust is in short supply. Don’t take it from me, though, take it directly from Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly who said last fall that he “wanted to return accountability to the corporate culture.”
Mr. Joly and Ms. Mayer, you don’t need to be next to someone to trust them. You build trust by allowing them to work-from-home or any place they desire, empowering them, holding them accountable for results and believing that they are just as vested in the company’s success as you are.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/kalebdf
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Wallyg