A worrying phenomenon is brewing among a handful of French companies that are using the brouhaha at Yahoo! as an excuse to forbid working from home. Unless you’ve miraculously escaped the tireless media coverage, you’re aware that Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced last month that she was abolishing the firm’s work-from-home policy, saying that to create a new culture of innovation and collaboration at the company, employees needed to come in to the office to report to work.
I wonder if this move would be scrutinized so relentlessly by the media were Yahoo!’s CEO not Marissa Mayer but rather some boring old white dude. But that’s a debate for another day… (and I just noticed well-covered by Sarah Lacy in Pando Daily last week).
Mayer’s new policy at Yahoo! is her way of shaking things up. And Yahoo! needs shaking up. The company faces a unique set of challenges, for instance the number of fiefdoms had developed which were hindering collaboration. Perhaps the physical presence rule will prove effective in re-kindling the creative cohesion that made Yahoo! exciting once upon a time; or perhaps it’s a misstep. Time will tell.
However, it strikes me as a little too convenient for traditionally staid, hierarchical French firms to seize upon the Yahoo! policy to serve their own employee empowerment-repressing habits. This smacks of the same disingenuous vibe conveyed by Jean-Marc Ayrault when he said last week that the French government should “take inspiration from the Swiss” in reference to the recent successful referendum in Switzerland to limit corporate executive remuneration (so if we’re following the Swiss model now, Switzerland is abundant with countless other astute economic measures from which to draw lessons, Monsieur Le Premier Ministre).
With all due respect, “Groupe Français SA“, you are not a Silicon Valley firm like Yahoo!. You have never named a women to the post of CEO. You espouse structured corporate hierarchies with an omnipotent and autocratic management layer whose objective is to transform human resources in human assets: cogs in a machine.
Only once you have built your credibility of genuinely exploring ways to inspire your employees will you earn the right to back-pedal on perks like telecommuting. If your goal is genuinely as you claim, to improve employee performance, then I encourage you to first try some techniques that have demonstrated fantastic success in Silicon Valley, such as flex-working, flatter organizational structures, universal stock options, free lunch, free smartphones, or even somewhat radical ideas like the unlimited vacation policy practiced by Evernote, Netflix, and even France’s very own Kwaga.