Marissa Mayer is right to ban remote work

I’m amazed by the number of posts blasting Marissa Mayer for requiring employees to be in the office rather than working from home.

I’m obviously a fierce proponent for remote work arrangements of all kinds. I know that over the long term, companies with the strongest leadership win because they are able to attract, engage, and retain the best people. Strong leaders lead regardless of the environment they are placed within, and most people can learn to successfully lead their teams through all kinds of work arrangements.

However when faced with a fatally poor performing culture, change must happen quickly. Unless the investment has already been made to build strong leaders, when your company is dying then you must take dramatic steps to increase the speed of organizational learning. There are obvious advantages to physical proximity when you are driving significant and fundamental change, especially if you do not have strong enough supporting leadership in place to spread new ideas and build new habits.

I applaud Ms Mayer’s courage in taking the steps she feels necessary to save the company, regardless of  how unpopular they may be. However, the remote work ban at it’s best solves only a symptom. I hope that once a better culture is established and results are on the mend that she takes a longer term view, and begins to build a leadership team worthy of managing remote teams. Only when she and her leadership team are strong enough to lead despite the circumstances can the company be truly successful.

Why aren’t my employees getting more done?

Ever feel like your employees just aren’t getting enough done fast enough? For most employees, their jobs often feel like pushing a rock uphill. Whether they are responsible to finish a project, maintain a certain standard of service, or sell a certain number of widgets every day, their job is to push some rock uphill towards the pot of gold at the top of the mountain. As a manager, your job is to run from mountain to mountain, providing extra pushes at just the right moment, generating momentum which makes their jobs easier so they reach their pot of gold more consistently.


Fernanda (Photo credit: Omar Moreno Jiménez)

If the rocks aren’t moving quickly enough, there’s likely one of these three problems. Diagnosing the core issue is your first step.

  1. They’ve lost focus on the goal. Do they constantly seem to be working on issues that you think are less important? Are they pushing the rock in a different direction than you need, making a lot of progress on the less important pieces of the rock?
  2. They’ve run into an obstacle. Do you constantly hear “I can’t”, “I’m waiting on…”, “I don’t understand”? Does it seem like they’re working really hard but not getting anywhere?
  3. They don’t share your sense of urgency. Do they always make a little progress but don’t seem to be pushing as hard as you expect? Have you seen them do similar things before, so you know they can do it?
Once you determine the most likely reason, identify what extra push you can provide to get that rock moving again. Read the full post »

Top 5 Ways to Alienate Your Customers


Diary (Photo credit: kevinspencer)

I’ve been using a website pretty regularly for the last year. I really don’t want to list the site name but let’s just say it’s a diary type application. They just changed the whole site and are receiving some passionately negative feedback from their customers. With social media and customer feedback so prevalent, I thought these were now common sense. Obviously some companies didn’t get the memo. So here’s the short list for those who haven’t been paying attention.

Top 5 ways to alienate your customers

  1. Don’t ask for current customer feedback
    • Before you change anything. Most log-in type websites require your email and online survey tools are prolific. You should be surveying your customer base regularly anyway, but especially before you make significant changes.
    • During a beta period. Give your customer the option of which site to use. Watch the site traffic. Now you automatically know which site works for which segments of your customer base.
    • After you make changes. The new site didn’t provide any method of providing feedback. Eventually I found the outsourced “help” forum, where many other folks were venting. Loudly. Partially because they couldn’t figure out how to provide feedback.
  2. Rely on only one method of communication. It appears they may have announced the upcoming changes on Facebook. There were no splash pages on the site promoting what was happening. There was no warning email sent to the current customer base. Not everyone uses every social media tool or cares enough about your company to follow you. It’s your job to make sure your customer hears your message in the way they will hear it, not just the way you like to communicate.
  3. Copy the current “hot” site instead of focusing on your niche. The old site’s strength was that it looked just like an offline diary: simple chronological, text-based listing, a format that’s actually pretty unique. The new site looks just like Pinterest or Tumblr. If that’s what people want, they’d use those sites. If you are going to compete, there needs to be something that sets you apart.
  4. Continue to ask for feedback without really addressing the feedback you’ve already received. One of the first comments they received was “I hate this, give me the old layout back”. The response was “we had to do it this way for speed but we are releasing a ton of stuff as we go, thanks for your patience“. Eighty-seven comments and a month later, they were still saying “just tell us what you need”. You can’t just ask for feedback, you have to listen to it and do something about it. Try “I’m sorry, here’s the back door to get back to what you are used to, we plan to keep it up as long as it’s being used”.
  5. Don’t provide an “out”. I understand that businesses must continually innovate and change. Sometimes, a business is no longer financially viable and may need to start with a completely new paradigm, including a brand new customer base. When that happens, you don’t just toss your old customer base aside. That ruins your reputation and could prevent you from ever being successful in any venture. It’s so simple to:
    • Communicate what’s happened including the new vision
    • Provide your old customers the ability to easily take their information with them and close their account

The saddest part of all for me was the complete entrepreneurial failure. By establishing themselves as a diary site, they set an expectation of the service: A diary is a record (originally in handwritten format) with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. (Wikipedia definition). It was actually a pretty unique space on the web, with a clear customer segment defined in the name. When they needed money (because the original concept did not consider how to best monetize the site – business plan failure), they tried printing blank journals that looked worse than other blank journals that are readily available. With print-on-demand so prevalent, why not create a beautiful journal with the person’s entries from the last month, maybe even a lockable version like the old-fashioned diaries? Or give your current customers an upgrade option with additional features like picture attachments or generated graphics based on text. You could have charged more, would have sold more, and really would have set yourself apart.

For those of you searching for diary alternatives, my new setup (including screen shots from the old one since no download tool was provided) is a separate notebook in Evernote. I’m also exploring which looks to have some real positives including privacy, simplicity, a mobile version, and a pro version that will hopefully keep them more financially successful and stable.

10 Things Not to Do as a Manager on Your First Day

Thanks to the Grindstone for the inspiration of this post. Their 10 things you should not do on the first day of a new job is a great list for new employees, and it reminded me of many of the mistakes I’ve seen managers make on their first day.

Erik K Veland Creative Commons License

The main goal for a manager on their first day is to listen. Avoid making enemies, and avoid statements that will keep you from being successful long-term. Instead, start building alliances and connections with people. Make sure everyone knows that you intend to work hard, listen well, and praise often. Remember, the manager title magnifies everything you do. Employees watch every move you make and hear every thing you say.

  1. Don’t spend all your time talking about yourself and your accomplishments. If they care, they’ll have checked you out on LinkedIn already. From their perspective, you haven’t accomplished anything yet. You just got here. Blabbering on about yourself will just make you seem arrogant.
  2. Don’t make judgement statements about the way things are done. Regardless of how much research you’ve done, you have no idea how things are really done, you don’t know who set it up that way, and you don’t know who you will be offending. If you think something should be changed, there’s plenty of time after you know why it’s like that and whose toes you’re stepping on.
  3. Don’t badmouth your predecessor or their decisions. Every outgoing boss leaves behind friends, mentors, and confidants, and it’s very likely that they are the very best people you have. It’s also highly likely that your predecessor did not make decisions in a vacuum. The people you are speaking to likely had a say in the decisions you are questioning.
  4. Don’t make statements about expectations that you don’t intend to follow yourself. I once had a boss who, in his first hour of meeting each one of his direct reports, proclaimed “this is a 24/7 business”. Unfortunately, his work hours did not show that. The office joke became that 24/7 meant 24 hours every 7 days. Be careful not to set yourself up to be the company joke.
  5. Don’t over schedule yourself with meetings that lock you up in your office all day. People are not excited that you are here. They are nervous and scared that their lives are about to change for the worse. They need to see you and believe that they have a place in the new world. Wander around and introduce yourself. Eat in the cafeteria. Let them know you really don’t eat brimstone and breathe fire.
  6. Don’t make changes to common spaces unless it’s dangerous or dirty. Common spaces drive culture. You may not like that neon green wall but for the people sitting by it, it could signal energy and positivity. Covering the conference room windows for privacy could signal to your employees that the open door management environment they’re used is shifting to a closed, exclusionary, and secretive one.
  7. Don’t buy expensive stuff for your new office. If that office chair is serviceable, use it. Employees are seeing their benefits, salaries, and time off cut on a regular basis. Spending hundreds of dollars to order an unnecessary luxury is a slap in the face to your employees. If you really don’t like your office, get up and walk around like you should be doing anyway.
  8. Don’t listen to the sycophants. The worst employees are thrilled to see their manager go away before they get fired themselves. They’ll be the first to welcome you with open arms.
  9. Don’t work less than nine hours. Employees really don’t usually understand the amount of effort most managers put into their job. For at least the first day, face time matters. Let them know you are excited to be there and anxious to work as hard as they do.
  10. Most importantly, don’t pass up the chance to give a sincere compliment. People want to work for managers who care about them and will help them be successful. The first time you meet an employee, focus on what positives they bring to the table and recognize them for that. Your whole first day should be about making real connections that will help you make the changes you’ll need to make.

Before you decide to work at home…

Think you want to work at home? Think you are ready to manage remote workers? Consider these articles first.

Image courtesy of Flickr {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

  • Inc. says employees want something difference in their office space. Something more flexible that can change as the work teams and projects change. This office’s design allows maximum flexibility. No more expensive wall tear-downs and painful packing up and moving whenever someone new comes in or a project is completed.
  • NPR’s recent report on curated coworking shows freelancers are flocking to shared workspaces. They estimate 30% of the workforce is working on their own. The trend is so prevalent that coworking spaces are becoming more selective. You might be screened out of a coworking space because you don’t work well with the others in the space, or you don’t add enough to the community they’re creating.
  • Then there’s this article about Twitter moving into a Detroit coworking space as a cost-effective growth strategy. Companies are anxious to grow but nervous. Not having dedicated office spaces are the ultimate in company flexibility.
  • According to Gallup’s research, you need to socialize for six hours a day. Coworking spaces provide a flexible opportunity to replace the corporate office with an equally important socialization method.

What this means for employees or candidates

Before you take the plunge, consider what being truly alone will be like over the long haul. Find some coworking spaces close to you and check them out. Talk to some of the folks there and see what their experiences were. Think through where else you’ll get that social connection. Are you active in your church, in your child’s PTA, in your Homeowner’s Association? Your interviewers won’t hire you if they don’t think you can handle it, but they can’t come right out and ask for fear of HR reprisals about getting too personal. If you want the job, you have to address it without being asked. Be careful not to get too personal here but let them know how you will manage the social side of working alone.

What this means for managers

If you are remotely managing someone who works from home, remember that having a friend at work is critical to employee engagement and employee engagement is the primary value that you bring to the company. (Gallup’s research here.) If your employees ask for a few days in a coworking space, don’t immediately cheap out and say no. Access to a coworking spaces can increase their engagement and potentially provide them with great back-up equipment if something goes wrong at home. Plus, it provides you with a unique network of other highly motivated, self-disciplined people. If you need a graphic designer for a quick one-time job, they may be sitting right next to your remote employee.

Related articles

(Curious side note. Why would WordPress’s spellcheck keep changing my “coworking” text to “cowering”!? Freudian. While that may be how many managers react when they hear the words “you’ll be managing this person remotely”, it does actually happen. Get with the times WordPress!)


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