A New Era of Social Employees – Building a Sustainable Culture

A short time ago, Kara Swisher at All Things Digital broke the news that Yahoo! was instituting a categorical no-telecommuting policy for its employees beginning in June.  According to an internal memo written by CEO Marissa Mayer, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.  We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

As it turned out, Swisher originally got hold of the memo by way of several disgruntled Yahoo! telecommuters, who were more than a little upset by the news.  And they weren’t alone.  Once the story got out, debate quickly erupted throughout the blogosphere over the pros and cons of telecommuting.  Was Mayer’s sharp reversal on employee policy ill-conceived, or will it prove to be a boon for internal communication and collaboration just like she intended?

To telecommute or not?

The immediate reaction to a decision like this when it goes public is to take sides.  Virgin CEO Richard Branson quickly took to his own blog to condemn Mayer’s actions, saying, “This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”  As this conversation has played out in the past several weeks, the majority of analysts and employees have tended to take a similar stance.

More recently, Rebecca Cooper, writing for the Washington Business Journal, wrote, “Mayer has been tasked with remaking a brand that has been seriously diminished and needs a major boost of adrenaline.  Read any account of the culture at Yahoo and you hear horror stories about just how many of the 14,000 employees are literally and figuratively adrift—no longer a part of the team trying to rebrand and rebuild the company.”

Faced with such a challenge, Cooper argues, Mayer had to try something different to get her employees’ attention.  Sure, no one likes to have a privilege taken away once they’ve enjoyed it for so long, but if they’re not performing their jobs to the best of their abilities anyway, perhaps it’s time for Mayer to take a “shape up or ship out” attitude.  In fact, according to a Business Insider article by Nicholas Carlson, Mayer may indeed be banking on this tough love strategy precisely as a way of weeding out the less driven employees at the company.

It’s not about where you work – it’s about culture

In another All Things Digital article, Kara Swisher examines other leading brands’ relationships to telecommuting, and the policies they have in place for their employees.  After examining leading brands like Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM, Swisher found that many of these businesses didn’t have hard and fast policies to dictate telecommuting practices, but all of them were flexible with their employees’ needs.  For many workers, securing permission to work remotely was a simple matter of having a conversation with their manager in order to discuss their specific work and personal needs.

As we explore in our upcoming book The Social Employee, (@SocialEmployee) driving innovation isn’t about what tools you use or where you work, it’s about building a sustainable, exciting culture that your employees want to be around.  The error in Mayer’s decision has nothing to do with telecommuting at all, but that she failed to invite her employees into the long, difficult process of culture change.  To the employees at Yahoo!, the announced change of policy came as a blindside.  It’s easy enough to understand why Mayer made the changes she did, but it’s the how that needed a little work.

The Social Employee, out late summer through McGraw-Hill, details the success stories of several major brands as they sought to redefine their culture and organizational structure in the dawning of the social era.  When tasked with improving employee culture and expanding communication channels in order to drive innovation, brands like IBM, AT&T, Dell, Adobe, Southwest, Cisco, and Acxiom learned to put the challenge to their employees and let them take the lead.

Through direct engagement, these brands were able to foster employee buy-in for major organizational changes.  Employees were given the opportunity to provide input into the decision-making process, and they were given the support necessary to transition effectively into new ways of doing business.

It’s telling that the now-infamous Yahoo! memo was leaked by not one, but several, angry employees.  In an era where social technologies make internal communication easier than ever, one can’t help but wonder how differently Yahoo! employees may have reacted had they been allowed to comment on company culture and join the conversation surrounding potential policy changes before they were made.

Cheryl Burgess (@ckburgess) is CEO and CMO of Blue Focus Marketing and author of The Social Employee – How Great Companies Make Social Media Work. She is a social branding consultant with expertise in social business and social media.  Huffington Post honored her as one of 40 global women “Passionistas” for her “great business expertise and timeless blog posts” and “Top 100 Business, Leadership and Technology Twitter Accounts You Must Follow.” Cheryl is a syndicated blogger. She is the co-founder of #Nifty50 Top Twitter Women and #Nifty50 Top Twitter Men.

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