Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Cisco got it right, and Yahoo got it Wrong! (My 2 cents)

As the modern workforce continues to evolve and globalize, more and more companies are evaluating a telecommuting strategy to save costs and lower carbon emissions as well as to retain top talent.  I am very proud to work for Cisco a company who paves the way to create new technology and "Changes the way we live work, play and learn" and creates technology that helps improve productivity, reduce costs and pave the future and embracing the culture of telecommuting.  It was shocking to me to see Yahoo taking a huge step back on this front:  the new policy will not only forbid occasional telecommuters from utilizing their home offices, but those who currently have arrangements to work at home regularly will now, according to Mayer, be expected to make the trek into the office each day. And the company is not expecting to extend leniency to those who might have just cause to stay at home. One news report via Web site, stated that Yahoo “employees who work from home must comply without exception or quit.”

I believe this is an approach to a bigger issue an unspoken but highly identifiable problem: yahoo is stagnant in the technology world. In the end,  if yahoo fails, people will point to the end of telecommuting as one of the justifications. If yahoo succeeds, people will point to this decision as a major driver of success. Either way it has nothing to do with the effectiveness of telecommuting.  The companies mission and focus is the TRUE issue, yet this decision is causing a chasm of outrage and support on both sides. Regina Ciardello of SMB Magazine spoke out in her most recent article stating, "As someone who makes a living via working out of her home office, I was honestly appalled by this decision. I voiced my displeasure on my Facebook page, sharing an article on this subject in which I stated: “This is bad for business, bad for morale, and promotes an unhealthy work-life balance.”

So has Yahoo!'s battle been all rosy?  Let's look at their history- Yahoo! grew rapidly throughout the 1990s. Like many search engines and web directories, Yahoo! added a web portal. It also made many high-profile acquisitions. Its stock price skyrocketed during the dot-com bubble, Yahoo! stocks closing at an all-time high of $118.75 a share on January 3, 2000. However, after the dot-com bubble burst, it reached a post-bubble low of $4.05 on September 26, 2001.  In the years that followed things steadily went down hill.  The company struggled through 2008, with several large layoffs.
 In February 2008, Microsoft Corporation made an unwanted bid to acquire Yahoo! for USD $44.6 billion. Yahoo! formally rejected the bid, claiming that it "substantially undervalues" the company and was not in the interest of its shareholders. Three years later, Yahoo! had a market capitalization of USD $22.24 billion.  Carol Bartz replaced Yang as CEO in January 2009.In September 2011, she was removed from her position at Yahoo! by the company's chairman Roy Bostock, and CFO Tim Morse was named as Interim CEO of the company. In early 2012, after the appointment of Scott Thompson as CEO, rumors began to spread about even more looming layoffs. Several key executives, such as Chief Product Officer Blake Irving left.  On April 4, 2012, Yahoo! announced a cut of 2,000 jobs or about 14 percent of its 14,100 workers. The cut is expected to save around $375 million annually after the layoffs are completed at end of 2012.  In an email sent to employees in April 2012, Thompson reiterated his view that customers should come first at Yahoo! He also completely reorganized the company... but by  May 13, 2012, Yahoo! issued a press release stating that Thompson was no longer with the company, and would immediately be replaced on an interim basis by Ross Levinsohn, recently appointed head of Yahoo!'s new Media group.  On February 24, 2013, Yahoo! sent a memo to their employees asking that all employees, including those who work at home, work in Yahoo! offices starting June 2013. In the memo, "Yahoo! claims to be taking these steps in order to improve communication and collaboration efforts amongst their own employees" [Wikepedia], but the question remains, are they truly taking a look at their position in the market and the real issues at hand?

Business Insider had a FANTASTIC presentation which depicted the future of work place, and "the death of the office as we know it".  I am lucky to long be a part of a company who not only utilizes these techniques, but helps to create it.  Every company has a bell curve of employees, although many wonderful, there are always a few bad apples.  These poor employee can lurk in a cubicle or in their home... it is my opinion, coming to an office does not make you committed.  I personally am committed regardless of my location, as many of my colleagues and customers are as well.  Those who are dedicated can be so regardless of their location.  I have personal bias, as I worked in one of our biggest Cisco campus offices for 8 years, before I moved to work remotely and telecommute for the past year.  Upon recent reviews with my manager and his compliments in regards to his views and my customer's annual review I realize that if you are passionate and dedicated then it should not and will not matter where you are, and your level of productivity will be 100%.  My customers work all over the United States, the cost of flying to see them would be unparalleled, yet I am readily available to be their direct liaison to our customer day or night (or late night) as needed.  Utilizing the very tools we have helped to build, partner or acquire from Web Ex to Telepresence, IP Telephony to e-mails care of our Routing and Switching, right down to my Linksys wireless router and everything in between.  Many of my clients do not know where I work, many don't even know I moved unless we mention it in conversation, and those who do know, do not care because my level of relationship support has not faltered.  I feel my work life balance has improved, and my productivity has been enhanced due to my ability to not take time away commuting and things of that nature.  But, don't take my word for it, let's look at some studies and facts.

Flexibility:  Due to  the nature of some jobs, such as retail cashiers or airline pilots, telecommuting might never be an option for them, but for many positions, technology has made this work style a viable alternative and sometimes even a preferred way of doing business. "Teleworking is best suited to jobs that are information-based, predictable, portable or that demand a high degree of privacy and concentration," said Marcia G. Rhodes, the spokeswoman for World at Work, an international human resources company.  New tools and employer tech support have made it convenient for employees to stay in touch with their managers and colleagues, and customers through calls, instant messaging or video conferencing. Customer service representatives might be able to take calls from home or a coffee shop just as easily as they can from an office. Lawyers can review patent contracts from home using a secure server system. Even doctors are using technology to help them diagnose patients remotely, and thus save lives.

Time:  Technological advancements have made it easier for people to connect across vast distances, making face-to-face meetings less necessary -- or at least less frequently required. If you don't have to drive to see your colleagues or your clients, you can dramatically reduce your time spent in the car, leaving additional time for work or personal tasks creating a better work-life balance.  According to a 2003 Bureau of Transportation survey, the average commuter spends about 26 minutes on a one-way trip to work, and a majority of commuters drive their personal vehicles [source: U.S. Department of Transportation]. That means that commuters, on average, spend about 52 minutes or nearly an hour a day in the car traveling to work and back home. This means that the average American spends more than 100 hours commuting to work each year, longer than the standard two weeks of vacation given to most employees [source: U.S. Census Bureau: Facts & Features].

Go Green:  In addition telecommuting helps the environment:   According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency: Climate- not using your car for just two days a week can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms) per year.  In 2008, Cisco teleworkers prevented approximately 47,320 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the environment due to avoided travel.  The average distance for round-trip commutes varied among global regions: employees in U.S. and Canada reported on average a 30-mile round-trip commute; Asia Pacific employees cited a distance of about 14 miles; Japanese employees cited a 26-mile commute; employees in emerging markets commute an average of 16 miles; and European employees reported a 46-mile commute.  Cisco employees report a fuel cost savings of $10.3 million per year due to telecommuting.

Save Money:  Not commuting to work helps the environment along with saving you time, but it can also save you money. While the money that you save will vary depending on your commute, you can calculate your relative savings easily. Just take the average price per gallon of gas, your car's average miles per gallon and then your daily commute distance. For example if you own a 2009 Honda Accord that gets about 24 miles per gallon with combined city and highway driving, and your average weekly commute is about 50 miles, then you could save several hundred dollars a year on gas alone [source:].
Not having to drive your car to work on a daily basis can help you save money in other ways, too. For example, you likely won't have the number of miles of wear-and-tear on your car. You might also save on parking expenses. Additionally, you might not spend as much on clothing or dry cleaning; and instead of going out to eat, you even might eat lunch more frugally from your own kitchen, and have healthier options to boot!

Saves your Company Money:  The potential for increased employee productivity would a plus for many because employees who telecommute are not in the office as often as regular employees, thus companies might be able to scale back its office space, which could reduce the company's rental expenses  These smaller spaces may also come with lower utility bills. In addition to office space, telecommuters probably don't use as many of the free perks that companies offer in-house. Many offices offer free coffee, tea and even snacks for employees in the office. These costs might be able to be reduced because a fewer number of employees would be taking advantage of them [Wilsker].  Benefiting a company's financial situation can mean more stability for the business and for its employees.

Relocation and Retention:  As aforementioned increased productivity and savings can benefit both the company and the individual, however so does the possibility for an employee to relocate while keeping his/her current job. For example, let's say an employee's spouse's job is transferred to a city across the country (As was my case). The employee may thoroughly enjoy working for his/her current employer, but for family/personal reasons must move to the new location. A company that offers telecommuting might be able to retain this seasoned and productive employee working for them. This situation offers benefits for both the employee, who still has a job, along with the employer, who doesn't have to train a new employee and retains possibly the best person for the position.  On the other hand, however, this also means that employers might be more likely to look outside of their geographic region for new employees.  You can hire and acquire better people that more fit what you are looking for if a commute is not an issue, thus widening your hiring pool.

Reduce Stress:  The problems with a physical commute, such as getting stuck in traffic, can be a huge stress for people.  Telecommuting can have stress-lowering implications for employees. For many people, the hardest part of their work day is getting to and from the office, this can allow those employees to commute fewer days in the week, lowering stress. According to a study sponsored by Hewlett Packard in the United Kingdom, participants' heart rates and blood pressure levels rose to levels higher than those of experienced fighter pilots going into combat during their daily commutes [Hewlett Packard].

Flexibility in Schedule:  Flexibility in work schedule can allow an employee to hone in on the best work time for him/her and his/her clients. This could mean starting a little earlier, perhaps the hour you would have spent stuck in traffic in your car. For those that are morning people, this might be your most productive or creative time of the day. This can also be a benefit for those that have many clients in different time zones [Rhodes].  Additionally, a flexible work arrangement could also allow employees to take advantage of doing errands during off-times when others might be in the office. Going to the bank at 10 a.m. could save an employee time and stress. An employee might also do this with exercising. If your optimum exercise time is 3 p.m., you can take a jog then and work later to make up for that time [Gordon], and yet come back to work more productive and focused than ever.  There are numerous studies which prove the benefits of exercise and corporate exercise.  According to a British Research Study six out of 10 workers said their time management skills, mental performance and ability to meet deadlines improved on days when they exercised. The amount of the overall performance boost was about 15 percent, according to the findings, which were presented this month at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.  "The people who exercised went home feeling more satisfied with their day," says study author Jim McKenna, a professor of physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K.

Boosts Productivity:  Many employees feel that they could be more productive outside of the office -- away from distractions such as that "chatty cathy" cubicle colleague or the social aspect of the office. "The one reason that is most surprising is that employees want to do this (telecommute) because they are frustrated by how difficult it is to do their work in the office," according to the Wilsker survey.
Taking away the distractions can make people more productive, but holding employees more accountable for their productivity can also have an effect. Wilsker notes that "even though employees may be present in the office in front of their computers, there is no way of knowing whether they are actually working". According to a 2005 study, employees who accessed the Internet at work reported spending about 3.4 hours per week accessing non-work related sites [source: Websense].  Since many telecommuting jobs do not revolve around the time spent, but instead how much you can produce for the company, it could make employees more efficient with their time. "I find that people are more productive because they are task-oriented, not time-oriented and think that 'I need to get my job done,'" Wilsker said.

For many companies it can affect their bottom line.  Per Cisco case study in June 2009 titled " Cisco Study Finds Telecommuting Significantly Increases Employee Productivity, Work-Life Flexibility and Job Satisfaction".  Cisco conducted the survey in late 2008 to evaluate a number of telecommuting topics, including commuting patterns, technology barriers, work quality and productivity, environmental impacts, and advantages and disadvantages of the flexible lifestyle, as well as overall employee satisfaction.

1,992 Cisco employees across five regions (Asia Pacific, emerging markets, European markets, Japan and U.S./Canada) participated in the study.  The summary of that survey is Cisco is achieving new levels of efficiency and effectiveness by enabling people to work together no matter where they are located. In fact, according to Cisco's Internet Business Services Group, the company's global strategic consulting arm, the company has generated an estimated annual savings of $277 million in productivity by allowing employees to telecommute and telework. In addition, with the steady adoption of enterprise-class remote connectivity solutions like Cisco® Virtual Office, the recently announced Cisco OfficeExtend, and virtual collaboration tools like Cisco WebExTM, Cisco anticipates that employees and employers will continue to see a rise in the benefits associated with telecommuting.

Cisco's Next-Generation Workforce

  • Cisco employees spend about 63 percent of their time communicating and collaborating.
  • 40 percent of Cisco employees say they are not located in the same city as their manager.
  • The average Cisco employee now telecommutes 2.0 days per week. 
  • 60 percent of the time saved by telecommuting is spent working and 40 percent is spent on personal time.
Productivity and Collaboration

  • Approximately 69 percent of the employees surveyed cited higher productivity when working remote, and 75 percent of those surveyed said the timeliness of their work improved. 
  • By telecommuting, 83 percent of employees said their ability to communicate and collaborate with co-workers was the same as, if not better than, it was when working on-site. 
  • 67 percent of survey respondents said their overall work quality improved when telecommuting. 
  • An improved quality of life through telecommuting was cited by 80 percent of survey respondents.
  • Telecommuting can also lead to a higher employee retention rate, as more than 91 percent of respondents say telecommuting is somewhat or very important to their overall satisfaction.

Rami Mazid, vice president, Global Client Services and Operations, at Cisco stated "In the age of a global market, time and distance separates people and workspaces. Cisco has long recognized that telecommuting and collaborative technologies are effective in breaking down separation barriers and enabling the transition to the borderless enterprise. In addition, as demonstrated by our recent study, a properly executed program for telecommuting can be extremely effective at unlocking employee potential by increasing work-life balance, productivity and overall satisfaction." Cisco Video Story

There are many benefits to as mentioned above and as someone who also sits on CompTIA's "Advancing Women in IT Community Council" , and a new step mom I will say it goes even deeper than that for many working mothers (and fathers).  Despite being the first woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company while pregnant, Marissa Mayer is facing some particularly vocal criticism on parenting and "mommy" blogs for not understanding the plight of the working mother, according to Business Insider.   Many of the comments that impacted me the most were: "Dare I say that for a company trying desperately to innovate, Mayer’s ordering workers back to work seems neither progressive, inspiring or smart" Denene Millner at wrote.Sara Welch at the BabyCenter blog stated, "I had high hopes that a young, female CEO — one who was openly pregnant when she signed on for the job — would bring a fresh perspective and some more, well, trailblazing.  This move seems completely out of touch with the modern workplace — one, I might add, that makes no bones of invading almost every second of life via blackberries, laptops and cell phones.Worse, it is totally out of touch with the very stretched lives of the vast majority of working parents who don’t have the benefit of a $300 million cash cushion and all of the work-life support that kind of money can buy." And from a blog post at  "... Maybe it's just me, but a technology company that insists collaboration can only happen in person is an obsolete technology company"

Carina Reyes, manager, Operations, Cisco had this to say about her lifestyle at our company:
 "As a working mother of three children, I know firsthand the benefits of Cisco Virtual Office. Through high-quality voice and video, I remain engaged and able to lead global teams and programs with ease and avoid back and forth trips to the office. The seamless transition from work to the home has given me the flexibility to choose the schedule that best fits my work and my home. Juggling early-morning Europe calls, midday doctor's appointments and evening Asia meetings, I move with ease from one place to another. My family and I feel fortunate that I work for one of the best companies today that enables true work-life navigation."

In my humble opinion, in this ever modernized knowledge-based economy, what is important is getting the job done, not when, or where.

** This article represents my personal opinion, supported by research and studies**