Learning from Yahoo! a guide to flexible working

Yahoo in February, found itself having to defend the decison of its CEO Marissa Mayer’s new policy against working remotely. In a New York times issued statement Yahoo said:

This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home“. “This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.” Internet debate at the time raged over the merits of remote working. Many thought Mayer’s move was uncalled for and archaic, and pundits predicted it would backfire, while other saw her move as a last-resort attempt to re-focus Yahoo after a decade of falling behind its competitors. The internal Yahoo read as follows:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.

Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Gigaom refers to David Heinemeier-Hansson of 37signals, with regard to the message that Yahoo is sending, “in which he says that Yahoo’s move is an admission that Yahoo management doesn’t have a clue as to who’s actually productive and who’s not.” “In their blindness they’re reaching for the lowest form of control a manager can assert: Ensuring butts in seats for eight hours between 9-5+”.

Robert Rutherford, CEO of specialist IT consultancy QuoStar Solutions weighed in on the debate, and offers a short guide to becoming a flexible employer and whether it may be right for your organisation. Everything Robert has ever implemented has always been business focused and has always delivered measurable business results. It has always been the business results side of things that excites Robert, not just tech for tech’s sake. Lets explore his views…  

“The decision by Yahoo! to categorically ban remote working appeared to many in the industry to be a vain attempted to swim against the tide. Flexible working is more popular than ever amongst both employers and employees. The benefits of the remote working approach are real, and proven, but as the Yahoo! example aptly demonstrated, flexible working isn’t for every business. If you’re a small business looking to embrace flexible working, there’s a two stage process that you’ll need to work through. Firstly, you’ll need to conduct a thorough check of whether it is the right move for your business, and secondly you’ll need to construct a rigorous step by step plan to put it in place effectively and safely.

Here’s a 3 step guide to checking whether flexible working is right for your company:

1)      Identify what the company is hoping to achieve in areas like communications, operations and workflows, as well as the minimum IT requirements that will be needed to support this model – it will be important to map the technology to suit the business, not the other way around.

2)      Review the relationship and interactional factors. Of course, if your employees need to meet with clients and prospects on a daily basis then home working wont fit, but what about creativity and the flow of information. If there’s an atmosphere which feeds creativity or constantly cross-educates the workforce with up-to-the-minute information, you need to assess what effect the loss or reduction of that will have.

3)      Understand what technology is going to be needed and how much it’s going to cost. A big part of what makes flexible working possible is the level of technology that allows employees to be audibly and visibly in the office whenever it is required. To achieve this set up can be expensive, and will often require a powerful and secure cloud service. If the technology isn’t in place already then setting up remote working will mean taking a short term financial hit in the hope of long term gains.

If these three stages don’t throw up any roadblocks, the next step is three vital checks to ensure that flexible working doesn’t end up harming the business:

1)      Test it. There are very few systems that can’t be trialled with little or no investment. Such trials are vital to avoid the loss of thousands of pounds in working hours, but also it will allow you review how effective the system is before making any large scale commitments to the workforce.

2)      Check the infrastructure. One thing that the tests won’t always highlight is how network connectivity and the working platform perform at particularly busy times or when there are unexpected outages, say of an internet connection. Ensure that the internet connection will support the solution no matter what day to day problems it may encounter. Many businesses just rely on ADSL services, but these often won’t be sufficient.

3)      Review security. The threat landscape will quickly multiply once personal devices, dual-purpose devices and multiple locations are introduced. Have an expert analyse the specific security controls that will be needed to protect against these and other threats.

Depending on the nature of the business, homeworking can, and often does, provide a number of advantages in terms of both productivity and costs.  In addition, a viable homeworking strategy can often provide a valuable ‘fall-back’ if employees are unable to work from the office for any reason.

Every business is different, however, and each will have its own unique objectives. As such, businesses should not choose to implement a homeworking model just because it happens to be a ‘trend’ among small businesses at the moment. Equally, businesses shouldn’t ignore homeworking because Yahoo! has deemed it unsuitable for its business. Instead, businesses that take this route should do so because it is the option best suited to their particular needs.