Yahoo!:The Telecommuting Debate
By: Daniel Enthoven
Marissa Mayer caused a flare-up in the long running brouhaha around telecommuting. I would call it a debate, but in general, people seem to be talking past each other rather than actually engaging on ideas. On the one side, people talk about the benefits of working from home: everything from greater productivity to being earth friendly. On the other side, people talk about lower productivity and limited collaboration. I think both sides are missing the point.
The fact is telecommuting is not an unmitigated good. Nor is it a refuge for pajama clad slackers. It’s very mixed. Some studies say that working from home increases productivity. A study done by Enkata finds the opposite is true. The truth depends on the type of job, the personality of the employee, the skill of the manager, the health of the company, and a dozen other factors.
Read related content:
- Telecommuting: Will it Work For My Employees?
- Remote Workers Work Harder for the Environment
- Five Keys to Leveraging Technology and Your Wallet
When companies are considering telecommuting, they need to look at a lot more than just if it seems like a good idea. Here are a few high level questions that companies should ask as they look at telecommuting.
- How is productivity measured? For some types of jobs, like call center agents or sales people, productivity is easily measured and understood. For other jobs, where creativity is required, it’s much harder to measure quality and output. Call centers have been able to “go virtual” at an industrial scale because it is so easy to measure productivity. If you can’t directly measure productivity and quality, it gets much harder to manage remote workers.
- How clear is the mission? When some knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, they can do it remotely. If the objective is vague, the company is transitioning, or programs are in flux, remote workers will struggle to keep up with the thinking in headquarters. If people are building a product to spec, they can be anywhere. But if the product design is evolving in discussions over lunch, the remote workers get lost very quickly.
- Is collaboration productive? Some types of work are generally solitary by nature. Examples would include software coding, writing, document processing, or back office functions like approving health care claims. Some jobs work better when people are in the same room. Marketing and sales strategy evolves through animated discussion, not email threads. Brainstorming over speakerphone is never effective.
- How these questions apply to any given job is a good indication if a job is good for telecommuting. Highly measurable, clearly defined jobs for individual contributors are great. What Marissa Mayer was facing, however, was the exact opposite. A company without productivity metrics and with a changing mission, that needed brainstorming and collaboration. This is the last place you would expect people to be working from home.
The truth is, perhaps the issue of telecommuting is beside the point. In any job, the manager will have a substantially greater impact on employee productivity than where the employee works from. The irony of the Yahoo situation is that a high tech CEO was reduced to looking at VPN logs to understand who was working and who wasn’t. Is this the best solution that technology has to offer?
Companies that want to support telecommuting should start by looking at their management practices. Are the managers trained to actually manage? Do they have the tools they need to see what their employees are doing, measure productivity, and hold employees accountable to targets? Do remote workers know what the job is, and how to get help and support when they need it? If the company doesn’t address these issues, their telecommuting program will fail. Of course, if they don’t address these issues, their office based workforce will fail too. And perhaps as Marissa Mayer considers her policy, she should consider this as well.
Daniel Enthoven is the Vice President of Marketing for enkata. Enkata’s cloud-based people operations software helps organizations achieve operational excellence and creates an engaged workforce.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.