Yahoo in ‘damage control’ after leak of memo banning telecommuting

The company’s head of HR sent out a memo Friday telling employees who work from home that they’ll have to start coming into an office in June. Communicators say the memo lacks some key elements.

The first sign that Yahoo HR director Jacqueline Reses’ memo informing employees that telecommuting will soon be a thing of the past may not have been an overwhelming success is that it leaked.

A banner across the top of the email states the message is proprietary and confidential. “Do not forward,” the text warns in all-caps. But, as All Things D reports, “a plethora of very irked Yahoo employees” made it public.

The directive that telecommuting will end in June comes from CEO Marissa Mayer, who has been at the online services company since July. Donna Lubrano, adjunct professor of management and communications at Newbury College, says the plan and the memo are going to force Yahoo’s management to do “a lot of damage control.”

She and other communicators offered their takes on the situation.

Dissecting the message

Reses’s message to employees contends that occupying the same space is a requirement for collaboration.

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” she wrote.

Reses also added that working from home means a sacrifice in speed and quality of work.

Author and brand strategist Malena Lott of Athena Institute says the language of the memo makes it sound like “a mom who is trying to get her toddler to eat his spinach.”

Yet, the message in the memo doesn’t seem very mom-friendly, Lott argues.

“This seems to be another indicator that they will not be a family-friendly place to work, despite having a mom at the top,” she says.

G. Keith Evans, communications director for MyUS.com, says communicating bad news is always tough. This particular memo falls short in terms of particulars for why it’s happening. Employees need to know what’s in this for them, he says.

“To be more effective, this piece could have emphasized the benefits for employees—maybe increased socialization, fun collaboration, lunches with colleagues, intellectual stimulation, even a little extra sunlight,” Evans says.

In a blog post at Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of marketing communication firm Arment Dietrich, revised the memo to make it more palatable. She inserted language telling employees she understood the news would be hard to take, and she added a motive: to beat Google.

However, D. Mark Schumann of re-communicate says he likes the memo.

“At a glance, its tone and content indicate a driven leader with a clear idea of what it will take for her company to succeed. And that is an anchor for any good place to work,” he says.

Cognitive dissonance

Lott points out that the method of telling employees about the change—in an email—seems to contradict the intent of the new rule. She wonders: If the plan is to get people to interact face to face, why wasn’t this message delivered in a meeting with managers?

Dietrich wrote that each employee who telecommutes should have had at least some discussion with a manager before the memo went out.

Lubrano adds that there’s no real proof in the memo that people actually do work faster or with more professionalism from an office. Workplaces are full of distractions, too, she notes.

“Creativity can be inspired by planned brainstorming sessions remotely,” Lubrano says. “I’ve done it over the phone. In fact, I’ve developed and created meetings and training sessions with clients I’ve never met. The key was a great communication channel, trust, active listening, and shared commitment to the success of the project.”

Will it work?

Schumann says it’s hard to replicate the magic that spontaneous, personal interaction can create.

“As virtual as our world has become, nothing can match the intensity of ideas that can emerge from in-person conversations,” he says. “While none of us are inside Yahoo, it’s easy to grasp the intent behind the email.”

Even so, Lubrano says it’s going to be hard for employees to get past what seems like a harsh mandate.

“Disgruntled employees who show up because they don’t want to get fired are not productive,” she says. “Resistance, sabotage, and passive-aggressive behavior can result. Look deeper at your organizational problem, you might find the answer is somewhere else.”

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