A Business Technology Place

IBM reverses course on work-from-home

We can improve business results with this change!

IBM recently announced the end of work-from-home for the Marketing department as it moves towards regional offices for co-locating the Big Blue workforce. They aren’t the first to do this. Yahoo reversed course in 2013 by banning work-from-home and Best Buy followed their lead. Could this be another business cycle forming? Companies have been centralizing and decentralizing organizational layout for years as they switch between shared service cost-savings and greater focus on customer needs. Now it appears working-from-home, telecommuting, and flexible work arrangements may start going through similar cycles.

The debatable points.

Working-from-home has many characteristics and touch-points to create debate:

  • Team collaboration vs private think-time
  • Consistent schedules vs flexible schedules
  • Meetings together vs conference calls
  • Productivity of the group vs productivity of the individual
  • Commercial office cost vs home office cost
  • Relationships and culture
  • Employee retention
  • Commute time

The irresistible force to change something.

It’s easy to see how business leaders are drawn towards this policy as a means to improve efficiency and productivity of their workforce. The debatable items can all impact workforce productivity. But change is initially disruptive and must be executed properly to yield the desired results.

Obviously there is no single right answer. Organizations must weigh options and make decisions based on their business environment, their workforce, and their culture. Workers have preferences based on their life-stage, distance from the office, position in the organization, and personality.

Regardless of personal preferences, it does not change the mission of the organization or the commitment required of the workforce to produce great work. Ultimately, managers make a decision and move forward with it to create the culture and environment they want to achieve the mission of the organization. The work-from-home policy attracts or repels would-be workers. But the workforce needs to understand the interests of the company must survive to provide services customers will buy and to provide long-lasting security for employees.

Onward and upward!

photo credit: Debra Roby via creative commons.

Yahoo removes email addresses from contacts list

This week I found out that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is on the cover of Vogue Magazine and I received an email from Yahoo with the subject line “An update was made to your mail account”. The two events are not related and it’s not that the Vogue cover didn’t get a reaction from me, but the email message was much more interesting. My first thought was that the message was a phishing email. By chance, I am currently working on a security awareness presentation and phishing is a topic. So I opened the email anticipating I would find the opportunity for a screenshot and example to share in my presentation. I was wrong.

The email read as follows:

Yahoo Updates Contact List

The two email addresses are real contacts in my address book, so I navigated to the address book on my own (not through the link) to check. Sure enough, the email addresses for these two contacts are now empty.

The Yahoo ID cleanup

Yahoo announced they were removing inactive Yahoo accounts that had been inactive for at least 12 months. So it makes sense they would also remove email addresses to these accounts from customer’s contact lists.  This prevents other Yahoo mail users from sending emails to the account when it could now be reassigned to a completely different individual.

Is this an invasion of privacy or is it a nice customer service feature?

What’s different about this particular notification and event for my contact list is that the two addresses removed were not Yahoo email addresses. They were from different domains. I looked in the Yahoo Mail Terms of Service.

The TOS gives Yahoo the right to “scan and analyze all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account (such as Mail and Messenger content including instant messages and SMS messages) including those stored in your account to, without limitation, provide personally relevant product features and content, to match and serve targeted advertising and for spam and malware detection and abuse protection. “

But I could not find any place where I agreed to allow Yahoo to remove contacts from my contacts list without asking for permission. If you are a Yahoo user and you know where this is stated please let me know!

Who benefits from this?

So just who benefits from this action by Yahoo? Why did they really do this?

If the addresses were reassigned to someone else by the provider it could eliminate the potential for me to send personal correspondence to the wrong address. In this scenario it could also reduce the potential for spam for the new owner of the address. But I don’t suspect Yahoo made this change to help me or the potential new owner of the email address.

It helps Yahoo reduce the number of bounced messages coming back into their system for undeliverable mail. I don’t know this for sure, but I would think that the number of undeliverable messages to a destination provider increases the chances that the destination will classify your domain as a likely spam source. Since Yahoo is a free email service, it already has a higher potential for spammers to register accounts there. So I believe this is an ongoing battle for Yahoo.

My .02

At the end of the day, I’m not hung up on some privacy angle with this move by Yahoo. The move helps me to know that these contacts are no longer using the address and gives me the chance to either update with their new email address (if I call them!) or remove their record from my contact list. In this instance Yahoo did not completely remove the contact record. They on removed the email address of the contact record.

Everyone wins.

Working from home is intertwined with employee retention and relationships

Should working from home be listed as a company benefit?

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer created an industry stir recently when she announced a ban on working from home. That’s the type of announcement that will send media and bloggers straight to their keyboards as they position what it means and what motivated the action. A spokesperson for Yahoo! gave this quote a few days later, “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home–this is about what’s right for Yahoo, right now.” That quote captures the key point. Mayer is operating and making decisions on what she believes is in the best interest of Yahoo! Individual policies are a means to an end for her. These policies are not her ultimate goal which is to make Yahoo! a healthy and growing company financially.WorkFromHome

Working from home home is not often listed as a company benefit. In many companies, it’s an informal agreement between the manager and the employees. It’s a perk. It’s part of the work hour flexibility program. It eases work-life balance for employees with long commutes. It can often be used as a salary offset (what’s a day at home worth to you in salary?) I’m not sure about other functional areas of the business, but working from home at least once a week has become an expectation for today’s technology work force.

Employee retention is at the core of the conversation.

Beneath the surface of this conversation on working from home is employee retention. Mayer wants to encourage closer collaboration from teams by eliminating some of the challenges with remote communication. But if good employees leave does the policy back fire and end up hurting Yahoo! more than it helps? Employee retention is now a critical metric for technology leaders. Outside of their technology skills, employees have institutional knowledge composed of systems, business rules, customer knowledge, and inter-departmental relationships. When a good employee leaves their institutional knowledge leaves with them.

Can you build relationships at home?

Laurianne McLaughlin of InformationWeek.com captures another piece of the core implications in her commentary about the Yahoo! policy on working from home. She includes a quote from Martha Heller, a CIO and IT leader recruiter, “The No. 1 skill in IT leadership right now is the relationships they can build with people in the company. CIOs have an issue right now where they can’t find people to report to them with that skill. You can’t build that at home.”

Good relationships will keep teams together and bad relationships (or no relationship) will break them apart. Technology leaders need team members that work well together and they need team members that work well with employees outside the technology department. While communication from remote employees is technologically easy, it does not enable the full relationship benefits people receive from being together.

Working from home once a week does not make building relationships unachievable. But once a week is 20% of the work week. If team members work from home on different days of the week it creates a more complicated matrix of when they can interact. The amount of time when the full team is together decreases and the idea of building relationships through co-location is more complicated than it seems on the surface.

So what does a technology leader do about it?

Allowing employees to work from home is a means to an end. A primary end goals is employee retention. Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some employees may live close enough to the office that they would rather be in the office each day. Some employees may recognize that they are too easily distracted with home life to be productive. But for others, working from home may provide them with the flexibility they need in their personal lives so they can be a full contributor to the team success. So I believe a work from home policy must be handled individually but should be supported in general terms as a company policy.

Building relationships is a key component to employee retention. Technology leaders need to stretch themselves in this area and try new techniques. That may mean using video conferencing services (i.e. Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.) instead of text based instant messaging. That works for team meetings in addition to one-to-one conversations. It may mean creating “drive-bys” for remote employees as well. We get interrupted each day from co-workers that stop at our desks to chat. Why not do the same for remote employees to create the in-office feel? Maybe that becomes to disruptive, maybe it doesn’t. But the bigger point is building and maintaining relationships that help with employee retention and ultimately productivity. I suspect technology employees are open to trying new ways to make it better. Just make sure someone still brings the donuts on Friday morning.

How marketing technology, agile marketing, and Marissa Mayer are influencing the future org chart

An engineer turned CEO is a story that attracts attention.
The recent news that former Google engineer Marissa Mayer is filling the role of CEO at Yahoo! is a great example that traditional career paths in a functional silo are becoming a thing of the past. It should come as no surprise that company leaders today need to be well versed in both business and technical principles. It’s the result of the role of advancing technology and the digital world. Logically, it makes sense too. The most diverse leaders will be those with experience in multiple areas of the business.

But every career path doesn’t have to end with CEO.
The Real Story Group recognized the Rise of the Enterprise Marketing Technologist from recent research on the growing trend of digital marketing tool sets. A marketing technologist is a growing role in organizations even though they may have different titles the point is that the boundaries between marketing and technology continue to blur. Even my title is currently composed of “marketing technology”.

As I look back at the eCommerce organization mind map that I created, I can see the same concept there. Ecommerce management leaders have responsibility in software development, content management, merchandising, demand management, etc. Ecommerce is truly a melting pot of technology, sales, marketing, and operations.

Agile principles will further influence this trend.
Scott Brinker created a nifty diagram showing the Renaissance Career. The term may be a good description of the change that I believe will start to grow in the business world regarding career paths. That’s because the idea of agile development methodologies for software development is spreading to agile marketing methodologies.  Agile thinking values responsiveness over planning and focuses on interactions between functional areas more than passing large documents between them. Yeah, that means you might have the marketer and IT programmer at the same table. Lingos, language, and understanding will blend and blur.

This is good news for all of us. But what does it mean for “functional” departments in the company?
This means opportunity. It means rewards for those who seek to understand how technology solves business problems. For some it means advancing to an executive leadership role with more knowledge of how the enterprise operates. For others it means finding opportunities to serve in areas where they would not have ever imagined themselves.

Do you think this will lead to removal of functional groups in the enterprise such as marketing, IT, and sales? Will the future corporate department be organized around products and services more than the functional groups we know today? This means a more customer centric alignment rather than work type alignment. It allows the blending of our current functional roles into roles such as a marketing technologist.

Hmm. That would be a renaissance. What do you think?