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On Yahoo and Working Remotely February 25, 2013

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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By now most of us have heard that Yahoo has pretty much canned any attempt at working from home amongst its employees.

I’ve been on both sides of this equation.  Circa 2002, my employer at the time, a major software vendor, summarily fired all of its remote employees (they all received their FedEx packages on the same day) and instilled a strict office policy, claiming that it wanted to instill its unique culture across the company.

The fact that its unique culture was decidedly command and control in the style of the US automotive companies didn’t seem to matter (there is a reason I use that analogy).  To be honest, it was a poor culture at best.  And the fact that it reversed course a few years later has more to do with laziness than belief.

I’ve worked primarily from home since 2006.  Today I work mostly for a small software tools vendor in the Midwest.  There is good in it, and there is challenging.  I make decent money, drive a 15-year old car that accumulates perhaps 4000 miles a year, and I have a commute down two flights of stairs in the morning.

The challenging aspect is that I see the corporate culture from a distance.  Many people wouldn’t pay attention to it, but in my mind it is the key part of being a remote employee.  I have tried my best to fit in, and I think I do so well.  Many of my colleagues bring in snacks on their birthdays; I send a basket of Boston whoopee pies (I’m told they have caused riots).  Overboard?  Perhaps, but most everyone there knows who I am (confession – I don’t know all of them).

I appreciate the flexibility, but I try very hard to give the appearance of the guy in the next cubicle.  I think I’ve largely succeeded, and seem to be well-liked and mostly appreciated.

Of course, I do the work.  That’s really the least of it, and the part I think trips up at least some remote workers.  The biggest issue is fitting in, and being visible.  You can’t hide under the desk.  Culture is very important, and a remote worker has to do both the work and the culture to be successful.

Yahoo will likely reverse course at some point, but gradually and quietly.  Unless it perceived it had a big problem, it would not have taken this step.  But for those who understand and follow the culture, this too shall pass.

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