Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Why Yahoo's Decision Might Not Be So Wrong (brennenbyrne.com)
38 points by brennenHN 1606 days ago | hide | past | web | 49 comments | favorite

Case study: At my last employer, we had a two remote workers and a project manager. Our entire team knew they were doing very little work, especially knowing one of the remote employees was maintaining a household with 4 children, and getting paid quite a bit more. One had the gall to ask us how to access source control very late in a project. Morale was clearly affected by those who had to come in every day and work their set 7.5 hours and had to make a case to stay home for the cable guy.

To make things fair, we really wish this blanket policy at Yahoo was put in effect, axed all remote arrangements, and reevaluate their remote arrangements on a case-by-case basis and bring fairness back without individually discriminating.

The reports of 'Yahoo is all against telecommuting' do not tell the entire story and are taking advantage of sensationalist headlining. Telecommuting works when everyone has a certain level of discipline, as it's far too easy to take advantage of and end up being complacent. Places do exist that essentially issue paychecks just because you're an employee in the system. I wouldn't be surprised to know far too many Miltons from Office Space are out there.

Case study: At my last employer, we had a guy who worked on-site and still had the gall to ask us how to access source control very late in a project. Being a moron who isn't held accountable doesn't get solved because you're not remote.

I would imagine that moronic tendencies are easier to notice on a day-to-day face-to-face basis, though.

Not in software, commit logs reveal everything.


"Our entire team knew they were doing very little work"

Allow me to clarify; there were no commits to source control on the very project we were working on. That was proof to us that no work was being done, unless there's one massive pending check-in waiting to happen, which would violate our team's internal standards.

In this case it was the same - I had complained several times that this individual had contributed absolutely nothing to the project, and this was proof. He asked how to access source control, and then while showing me what he was trying to access source control for it was apparent he didn't even know which operating system we were running on. He had written no code, and had never even successfully run the software. My point is that if people are going to tolerate useless employees, it can happen on-site just as easily as off-site.

At the risk of invoking a No True Scotsman, that sounds like a hiring problem, not a remote working problem.

That's just poor management, not against working remote. If the employee isn't doing the required work or holding his own weight, by all means, he or she should be let go. It takes a manager with a backbone to do something about it before it starts to affect other employees morale.

The point is, if good management comes in to take over, the first thing they'll do is bring everyone into the office to sort shit out. Especially since in a dysfunctional team, the most obviously dysfunctional members may not necessarily be the root cause of the dysfunction.

New management cannot simply take the incumbent on-site team members' word for it that it's all the fault of the remote guys. Which is probably part of what's happening at Yahoo.

Also, the words "the entire team knew" are a big red flag. Any team of responsible adults would have confronted the issue already. The fact that they haven't indicates that there is much more going on than just a two rogue remote workers.

You are absolutely right. It's more work on management to have productive remote employees (and to do it right). But, there are reliable ways of understanding remote employee productivity - though, they aren't always obvious.

especially knowing one of the remote employees was maintaining a household with 4 children

You're saying people having a household with kids can't be productive employees?

I'm pretty sure he's saying the guy/gal working from home with 4 kids running around can't be a productive employee. Which is probably true for most cases. Kids can be a giant distraction.

Kids can be a distraction, for sure. Just like coworkers or officemates who frequently disrupt others (even if not directly, such as the cube next to someone trying to concentrate).

When at home, if I feel the a distraction looming, it's easy to shut the door. Problem (mostly) solved.

When the poster says "maintaining", I'm guessing the employee was doing double-duty as a stay-at-home mom/dad, at which point you can't always just shut the door for 8 hours.

You're 100% correct if that is the meaning. But, that isn't "working" full time (unless it was a pre-agreed arrangement). That shouldn't be allowed, but poor management will not catch/act on it.

However, I was specifically replying to the context of having distractions (kids, in this case) in gcp's and alistairSH's comments.

There was nothing in the gigantor's post that suggested the remote employee was working in the same room, or even the same building, as zir kids.

For all we know, said employee was paying alimony for them.

Remote workers require at least as much management competence as local workers. A lot of companies forbid remote workers from routinely being the primary child care provider (while working) for exactly this reason.

Often the companies that do this are the ones with the most liberal work-from-home policies, IMO.

> One had the gall to ask us how to access source control very late in a project.

Is this to suggest that he'd been there from the beginning of the project and yet hadn't even checked out the code, let alone committed any work?

Also, if he hadn't been committing any changes at all from the beginning, I would think the manager would be calling him up asking what in the world is going on.

I guess I have a bit of a bias here as I'm a remote worker in another company (almost entirely staffed of remote workers), but the initial news mentions that a lot of these people are customer support folks.

I'm sorry, but there's almost no reason to have customer support folks on site. It usually also costs the employer considerably more money to have them on-site. I can't say this with any certainty for Yahoo, but this move is commonly done with remote support workers as a stealth layoff. One of my coworkers has had this done to him three times already (by Mcafee, Microsoft and others). I've seen financial companies do it by relocating their IT support from NY/NJ to places like small-town central Ohio (I'm looking at you, JPMC).

The idea here being that it would cost Yahoo less to have some estimated percentage of people work out of the office versus having to pay the increased unemployment insurance rate based on the number of claims they'd have after a mass layoff. That and they can layoff a bunch of people without it being announced as a layoff.

Companies that hire remote staff have a tendency to attract people whom for medical/disability reasons cannot work in an office -- they're the real losers here.

Yahoo hasn't announced any financial relocation support for anyone moving to work from the office. I find that pretty telling here.

I'm certain this won't hurt Yahoo! We all love remote working, myself included, but it's not for everyone. And if yer trying to turn a company around, perhaps having everyone under the same roofs is a good idea.

I'd wager remote working returns later on in the Yahoo! story, and that the folks working from home right now are just being shoved overboard for lack of productivity.

I mean, if a Guido or a Gosling shows up and wants to work at Yahoo!, but wants to be remote, I'd bet they make an exception.

Right now, Yahoo! people are probably used to hiding their lack of productivity, rather than producing cool software. It tends to happen in dying orgs. Getting everyone together for a while might help!

And frankly, I don't worry about Marissa at all: she has one HUGE advantage over every other CEO in the world: she understands how software is built, and what is required of the people who build it. I don't think any other CEO in the world understands that kinda stuff.

While I agree with the rest of your post

> I don't think any other CEO in the world understands that kinda stuff.

Larry, Zuck, and Tom Preston-Warner, among others would likely take issue with that last sentence ;)

Not only that, the assumption people seem to make around here that many if any CEO's at large companies set low-level policy like this is highly questionable. You can have an exceptional understanding of development and be a good CEO, but if setting development standards or processes is not supposed to be part of your responsibilities (very likely), attempting to do so means you're not doing your job and stepping on the toes of the people who are supposed to be doing this.

Derp, yer totally right.

If they were getting 25% less done, and had the data, they should have referenced that.

My guess is that given that Marissa is so data driven (to a fault - eg. the thousand shades of blue on the Google ad links as an example) that if she had had this data she would have shared it.

No, its obvious to me that this was a "we did it like this at Google and Google was successful" move without data.

Would you share the info? Consider: this is the sort of decision that people leave companies over, possibly in significant numbers. You put "people who were teleworking at Yahoo were 25% less productive" in the news, and that stands to poison the employment prospects of some number of them, whether or not it's true of any particular person. They, in turn, could come back and sue you over that.

Would that happen? I don't know. But I'd call it a safe bet that the lawyers are afraid of it. They could be driving a decision not to share data.

There's absolutely no reason to share internal data unless you have to.

No, its obvious to me that this was a "we did it like this at Google and Google was successful" move without data

Gourmet chefs in the company restaurant, free massages and 25% pay raises for everyone? Fair deal (if working at the office is practically an option).

The massages were not free. They were $80/hour plus tip. Or you could sometimes find 2-hour user studies to participate in that would give you a massage coupon, but it still required a $20 tip.

I have gourmet food at home and make as much as I did at Google. Plus none of that matters to me nearly as much as my health and not having to sit at a random office 5 days a week.

Does Google not allow remote working?

Google is vehement about not forbidding remote work, at least during the hiring / interview process.

(That's part of why I ended up at Mozilla. No two of my immediate teammates even live in the same state at the moment.)

I'm having trouble parsing your statement: mistaken double-negative?

(I'll delete this comment if your wording is clarified via in-place edit...)

Gah, I edited from "not allowing" to "forbidding," but missed the "not." Oops! Thanks for the heads up. In summary: Google does not allow remote work.

It's team-dependent. Some teams don't allow it, others only 1-3 days a week, and others allow complete remote. In general though, you are unlikely to be allowed to unless you've been there a while.

I like this response, its basically saying "don't assume anything".

How much experience does everyone have of remote working? My experience outside of tech is that it gets used to enable daytime shopping, social activities and other such.

In the industry I've not seen the practice abused, but then it is also rarely offered, usually under the guise of naive security concerns...

I would love to work from home... then I could move somewhere cheaper. Its a fantastic luxury, and it won't attract the best in the same way that not being a tech giant will anyway... ;)

I've done it several times. It always was for geographical considerations - I'm not able to relocate for personal reasons. If you can relocate or are living in a relatively poor area, the financial consequences can be very attractive, I've had colleagues from eastern block countries in that situation. For me that part is a wash - but instead it allows to work for companies I personally consider more interesting and better fit to my skills, compared to the locally available jobs.

You can indeed shift some activities that normally happen after work (and the two you mentioned are very typical) to moments during the workday, when such venues are much more quiet. This saves you time. In my case (and current job) it is also more interesting to work late in the evenings because I have to coordinate with a team in the Valley, which is far away from me timezone-wise.

The time you save commuting is 100% won, either for your personal use or to work more for your employer/customers. This can be very substantial.

Offering remote work isn't as easy a saying everyone can go home. You need management that understands what the employees are doing and can judge their output. You need infrastructure such as a secure chat and reliable videoconferencing. The latter is for some reason very hard to get right. You also need a good mindset that doesn't treat remotes as the exception, so you need either teams that are substantially remote, or managers that are remote.

If you're working remotely, you need to deal with things such as potentially being lonely (I have friends on IRC, which are essential to keep me sane, other people go to co-working spaces or go grab coffee, etc), the risk of slipping sleep/work cycles, and good separation of work/home time (this is tricky, but my social life seems to be OK :P).

I've found IRC just as conductive to getting into the company atmosphere as an office. It depends on the employer though. At least on IRC you don't risk sharing the office with the most boring people in the company. You can also regularly have real-life team meetings. My experience is that during those nothing gets done (exactly like working in an office j/k) but you can get to know your teammates a teeny bit better.

Productivity-wise, the advantage of working from home is that you can keep on going if you're on a roll. You'll have bad days too, just like you can have bad days at the office.

So: the downsides is that the company needs to invest a bit in this, and have a setup that's workable (enough people remote!) with a management and IT that can cope with this, and that it doesn't work as well for everyone.

The upsides: you have much more latitude in hiring people, and you win the commuting time.

There are wins for the companies, too.

When I worked for a midtown NY hedge fund, they made sure to remind us on a regular basis that just giving us a desk with a computer and power cost the company $2000/month.

Many companies adjust employee salary to location, so moving somewhere cheap might not produce the desired effect.

Would they actually lower your salary if you moved?

I might have to step back from my statement. It applies to formal relocation. If you informally move from San Francisco to San Jose, there would be no compensation adjustment. Similarly, if you informally moved from San Francisco to Winston-Salem, N.C. there should be no compensation adjustment. If your work from home agreement has no in-office requirement then there should be not problem, but I would expect a work from home agreement with no in-office requirement to have a base salary compatible with some average cost of living base.

The only thing we know for sure at this point is that Mayer sucks at PR when it comes to the tech community.

Which is worrying. If Yahoo really wants to attract top talent again, at the very least they would have spun this better. Now there is only a leaked (surprise) internal memo and a complete lack of control over the story, which means they either don't give a damn or they had no clue.

Neither explanation speaks in favor of Yahoo, even though the decision itself might be a perfectly good one.

For most of us Yahoo just earned extra points in the "places to avoid working for" column. Not because of the decision to call in remote workers, but because they apparently don't understand what it looks like to those people they actually want to attract.

The article makes a point that the decision to take away remote working privileges is probably based on data that Yahoo had about their remote working employees. He's suggesting that remote working wasn't working for them, so they nixed it.

But this is the issue I take with the article and the action from Yahoo - remote working isn't a "it does/doesn't work for them/us" type of thing. Remote working either does or does not work, and you are either doing it correctly or doing it incorrectly. Since there is evidence out there that shows that remote working can be just as effective as in-office working (and, in many cases, more effective), I'm left to assume that Yahoo was just doing it wrong.

I do not believe that the concept of remote fluctuates in its performance so greatly - the concept is sound. It's the implementation that is flawed - implementation at companies like Yahoo. There are ways to do it right, and there are ways to do it wrong; Yahoo chose the latter.

So, now the problem is this: when you find that your company has been failing at something, do you try to fix it or do you choose to cut it? Many things that Yahoo has been failing at, in terms of business, have not been cut. Instead, they're trying to fix them. When it comes to benefits for the employees, however, they're more than willing to cut those benefits.

In my mind, the correct action isn't to cut the remote working program, but to find what you're doing wrong and fix it. Cutting the program is only going to demoralize employees and make the company seem less desirable to future talent.

I liked the part about "The truth is that decisions like this one get made based on data".

There are many employees that are as productive working from home, as they are in the office. It does depend on the employee's ability to manage their time, as well as the management structure to manage their workload and collaborate with the team. Our company has half of their employees in the office, and half that work from home. The employees working from home are as productive as the employees in the office but they work on projects together with the team in the office and we have weekly meetings that touch base with the team. On the other hand I can see how in a large organization you may have employees that manage to get away with doing the minimum amount of work from home and it is obvious to the employees in the office that they do not work as many hours as those in the office. Factor in commute times, you can easily have in office employees spending twice as many hours away from home with commute and work than the home employees. This is a serious drain to morale and overall productivity

One of my previous companies did business with Yahoo. Every single Monday and Friday was a "working remote" day for the dozen or so contacts I worked with.

If I had to guess this policy is less about the full time remote employees as it is removing excuses for the 40%+ of Yahoos on the 3-days-week schedule.

"or the ousting of Mayer which he sees as eminent" - I think you mean imminent.

He may see Mayer as eminent, too. But maybe that would be more properly "whom he sees as eminent".

good catch, thanks!

I am confused why Brennen spent so much time to say so little.

Of course we don't know the exact reasoning behind the decision nor whether they have metrics to back it up. That is obvious and is the always present caveat whenever there is a discussion about a decision that people weren't directly involved in making. So we are always left to make judgements from outside the box.

So unless Brennen knows something specific he isn't sharing I am going to continue believing that either (a) this is a dumb decision which shows a lack of understanding about how software development works or (b) this is a smart way to reduce headcount without reducing morale.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact