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Yahoo's telecommuting problem is management, not collaboration

Kristin Burnham | March 7, 2013
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's controversial decision to ban employees from working from home led some to question the value of social business tools. Two executives from social business providers say Yahoo's problem isn't about collaborating. It just needs to manage better.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines last week when she renounced the company's policy on working remotely, ordering all Yahoo employees to report to the office by the beginning of June.

Mayer's mandate set off a fiery debate: The New York Times called the move "a fem-quake with a decision that has a special significance to working mothers." Time said that the move "appears to set back the modern workplace and working parents by about two decades." And Technorati called into question why a technology company can't reap the benefits of collaboration tools that others have.

Social business tools, which a McKinsey Global Institute study found can elevate worker productivity by 20 to 25 percent, are a big business today, especially for companies with a diversified workforce. They help employees find information quicker, connect with others and collaborate more efficiently, according to the report.

But Mayer's move isn't a reflection of the validity of social business tools in the workplace, according to two executives from social business providers. The problem, instead, lies in Yahoo's management failings.

"The tools that we have today for collaboration are so much more powerful and so much more dynamic than the old model of phone and email," says Michael Idinopulos, chief customer officer at Socialtext. "These tools make a whole new way of working possible, but you still have to manage employees. Sure, you can collaborate easily, but using these new tools doesn't mean you stop paying attention to goals and metrics."

Ray Grainger, CEO of Mavenlink, agrees. He says a common problem for businesses with remote workforces is setting expectations.

"If your employees don't know what's expected of them and you have no set rules on measuring their productivity, that's going to lead to suspicion," Grainger says. "You don't know how productive they're being, and that's the problem that Mayer is facing."

Grainger has experience working with a diversified workforce first-hand and understands the value and necessity of setting expectations upfront.

"For the first three years of Mavenlink's existence, I had never met my [director of creative] face to face," he says. "But it worked because we were clear from the start about expectations, what we were trying to deliver and how we would measure it and collaborate."

Neither Grainger nor Idinopulos believe that Mayer's ban on working remotely will last.

"Mayer is stepping into a company with very high expectations from the shareholders and the rest of the world for making the company more productive," Grainger says. "I don't think she's condemning working from home, but she's trying to change a company's culture. Once the ship is righted and she knows who's onboard, I bet there will be people working remotely effectively."

 

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