Friday, March 1, 2013

Hell yeah, Ms. Mayer! (hope you are doing the right thing at the right time)

Ha?. Seriously?. One of the founders of the first virtual company in market research industry in Indonesia, supports Ms. Mayer’s ban on working from home?. Has she gone mad?. 

Oh c’mon. Don’t shoot me yet. Let me just tell you a story. 

Ever since I graduated from college, I’m a true believer that working, should not be confined in a cubicle. In fact, I’ve always hated the feeling of being surrounded by walls, 9 to 5 (or even more than that). The first time I stepped into an office, and saw rows of cubicles, I trembled and disliked it instantly!. The only thing that made me decided to finally join a company, was because I loved the kind of work so much that I wanted to learn from the best in the industry. There, a heavy motivation, yes?. I had to have one!. If not I wouldn’t have jumped to it.  

So when I could have my way (via convincing the boss that I could not work well in the office, and the report I produced would just be crappy, and that would make the client angry and so on and so forth), I worked from home from time to time. In the 90s, working in cafes was not that popular yet (or maybe I was not trendy enough...haha..). 

And to me that worked perfectly well because I could focus more, I could be more creative to some extent (at least to my standard of creativity and thank God clients never complained! – though they never said I was creative either :D). Office, with all its boring walls and decorations (or, lack of them), only stopped me from opening up my mind with alternative ways to solve a problem. 

As I climbed up the corporate ladder, I realized that there were some people in the team who seemed to share the same ‘brain wave’ with me. That they too, I observed, produced a lot better work when they worked away from the office. 

At first, I let anybody worked away without any clear defined rules. And, troubles began. 

Let’s face it. Not everybody can appreciate that the chance given to working from home (or wherever else but office), is a space to be treated with the utmost respect. And not everybody can actually measure himself if he actually fits with that model of working. And there will always be those who think that working away is a priviledge not a responsibility!. 

What kind of troubles that I’m talking about here? – missing deadlines, sloppy work, including MIA!.
Needless to say that created bad impacts:

  • We all worked in teams. The sloppiness of one person would impact on the team, not just that particular individual. So the whole team sometimes had to come to the rescue just because of one person’s crap. And that brought down morale.
  • Client relationship was bruised.
  • I got pissed off. Very, very, pissed (and it was ugly...).

So we reviewed the policy. We all still believed that working away does have its merits. But to make it worked well, we realized that there must have been some guidelines, to ensure that everyone respected the space, and the team spirit was kept intact. 

So we made those guidelines, simple ones like:

  • One should tell the direct manager if he decided to work away from office, and for doing what. An agreement between the team member and the manager must be made in terms of what he should deliver at the end of the working day. So everyone understood the expectations.
  • All communication devices must be on during office hours. He should be available for calls. Emails should be answered within the day.
  • Any violation to the above, would mean a warning from the manager. Three times warning would mean a ban for that person to work away for a month

That sounded harsh?. Well, a company was built on one basic assumption: it has to make money. And it will not be able to generate money without a good and effective workforce. And no money means no pay. Workforce suffers, company suffers. End of the game. So yes, rules are needed, no matter how humane one wants the company to be!. 

And yes there were questions and resistance because we were so lenient before. But just like your mother used to say to you, “I know best my dear so shut up and eat your vegetables”; I said, “This is for you, your team, and for the company, so do it. Sorry if you don’t like it but that is how we’re gonna do it from now on”. 

Guess what. It actually improved the whole experience for everybody. Slowly people began to realise that this policy was not meant to restrict their moves. Rather, it brought predictability and clear expectations. No more bad work, no more MIA, no more team that suffered from one person’s ignorance.

You’re probably wondering by now, this story is different from what Ms. Mayer did!. So why the hell did I say I support Ms. Mayer’s controversial statement?. 

Let me tell you another story. 

In 2007, the same company were we applied that policy to working away, was in crisis. 50% of the revenue stream, was gone due to a lost of contract at a regional level. And Indonesia happened to be one of the biggest markets for the corporate, and hence, we suffered one of the toughest fall. Hell on earth. Panic attack. 

The company was small – only 35 full time employees. Nothing in comparison with the gigantic Yahoo. But crisis is a crisis, whatever size the company is. And though the impact will naturally be different, yet emotion will still be the same. 

What happened when company was in crisis? Insecurity. Instability. Gossips. Assumptions. You name them. Everything negative was in the air. 

And when would all that negative be stronger?. When people were not around. They would assume that person was off somewhere for a job interview!. Or that person was being laid off. Or whatever else. 

If you think that’s silly. Think again. Human emotion is interesting. In the toughest of time (or even not in the toughest of time), we have the capacity to think and feel of the worst almost immediately. Why do you think there are so many motivators trying to teach people to think positively?. There.

So we had to deal with that kind of emotions. From every corner of the office, at every layer – from office boys to Directors. It was fun. 

So what did I do?. I didn’t do what Ms. Mayer did. I didn’t ban working from home. But you know what? – it was the managers who decided to do so!. 

Yup. I didn’t ask them to do that. And you know their rationale for doing so?: because this was the time when we had to stick together. This was the time when the word TEAM was put at test. And with everyone in the office, if there were questions, doubts, gossips, it would be easier to tackle. We had an open door policy. So when people were in the office, they could always discuss what they thought and felt with their direct manager. Rather than feeling blue and being depressed and fantasizing the worst at home alone!. 

So everybody was in the office day in, day out. Everybody helped whatever they could – because with 50% loss of work, that meant there were people who were somewhat jobless. And since we tried so hard not to do any lay off, as much as possible we spreaded the work equally according to their skills. We fought to prove to our regional office that this was the team that we had to hold on to, not to lose. 

And we had to sell, sell, sell. We went to every single pitch in town. And I still remembered the emotion everytime a team had to go on a pitch. Everybody would stand up, gave an applause, cheer, yell, say great words, prayers. And when the team came back, everybody would ask how it was, shoulders were being tapped, supporting one another, praying that we would win the pitch!.

It was a wonderful feeling, seriously. I still get goosebumps remembering all those. In that tough time, together, physically, we were there for one another.

When things were better, stable, without anyone even noticing the same system of working, worked again. Life was good. Same rules applied. Everyone was happy again. 

So you see, I could empathise with Ms. Mayer. I, as none of you too, actually don’t know the real rationale behind her controversial ban, and what she communicated internally afterwards. But I know that having everyone physically in the office, when time was tough, was a real comfort. Provided that there is a very clear goal to achieve, and a clear plan of how the company is going to be saved, and in return, how their lives are going to be affected. 

Maybe that’s what Ms. Mayer is trying to do. Trying to make people involved in actions taken to safe Yahoo. Getting people discuss face to face of the possible actions. And while technology is good to assist these discussions remotely, still, from my personal experience I know face to face is still the best thing. 

You can feel the aura of togetherness much strongly. You can shake each other’s hands to ‘seal the deal’ to agreed actions. You can even do those yells that basketball players do just before the game, or a harlem shake, whatever!. And it is exciting!. It lifts the spirit and it does wonders at difficult times. You can only achieve that through face to face interactions. Technology, should not and cannot replace that. Especially not in crisis. 

I have to admit I’d love to interview Ms. Mayer and understand her real point of view and rationale for her statement. Still, my two cents worth, I believe she’s just trying to pull things together. So let’s lay low on criticisms now, and let’s watch that space. 

But if that ban goes on forever even when crisis is over, then maybe that’s the time when I’d say “I’m now against you Ms. Mayer” :D  

(R I R I)

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