Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Virtual Workers No More – Did Yahoo Get It Right?

Volume: March 2013

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


Leading people who work remotely is tough. It is very easy to fall into the leadership trap of “out of sight, out of mind.” Recently, Yahoo made the strategic decision to cancel the option for team members to work from home. While Yahoo refrained from stating the specific reasons for its decision, one assumption is that the company found out the hard way that if remote workers do not experience solid leadership, they become unproductive. Jackie Reses, the head of human resources at Yahoo put it this way: “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." Critics of Yahoo’s new policy fear that the move will damage morale and chase away key employees who thirst for the flexibility of working from home.


So who is correct in their assessment of this situation? In short, both sides are right. Let me explain. For companies that fear that their leaders will not closely manage remote workers, the best decision they can possibly make is to put the kibosh (official consulting word) on a work-from-home policy. You see, the allure of a remote workforce stems from the cost savings associated with fewer desks and supplies, as well as lowered insurance costs. In addition, studies have shown that people who effectively work from home are 15% more productive than their at-work colleagues. Notice the word “effectively” in the previous sentence. That is because studies have also shown that fewer than 25% of people who work from home can do it effectively. This brings us to the dark side of working from home: The majority of people (i.e., 75%) who attempt to work from home are distracted by domestic chores, the television, or the reduced amount of socialization. In addition, there is a mission critical element to consider with regard to employing an effective remote workforce: Leadership!


A couple of years ago I published my most popular article to date. It was entitled Leading Virtual Teams. One of the key elements from the article was the fact that to effectively lead a remote workforce it takes 50% more leadership time than it does with a traditional workforce. This is due to the water-cooler conversations that naturally take place in an office, coupled with the opportunity to view other people’s body language, and to engage in hallway high-fives. These spontaneous conversations spark creative thinking that can lead to greater innovation. The article also highlighted that extra attention must be paid to setting expectations in order to ensure proper workplace collaboration.    


Where does leave us? Well, if your organization is willing to make the strategic investment of leadership time and tools necessary to manage a remote workforce effectively, then go forth and go virtual. However, if your leaders are not skilled or are too busy to truly lead, you are well-advised to buck this growing trend and keep your team in plain sight.  



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