Does face time matter?

Does face time matter?

The recent “Work From Home” ban at Yahoo! has sparked much debate in my circle of friends. Going beyond the initial uproar, it turns out that the ban is primarily targeted at several hundred remote employees, who work from home most of the time. You can read the internal memo here and decide for yourself.

Image by Infs187 |

Image by Infs187 |

Most people I talked to see both sides of the argument. Yes, studies have shown that working from home can be just as, if not more, productive. You may have already heard of the study of the customer service employees that showed at-home productivity rose by 13%. On the other hand, most people will also readily concede that physical presence is necessary to encourage brain storming and discussions. To be clear, I don’t think productivity and efficiency is really at the heart of Yahoo’s problems right now. Creativity is the key to the company’s future survival.

So what exactly is it about the memo that got people so riled up? The first issue at hand is: autonomy. Executive coaches have long counseled senior managers that contrary to popular management belief, employees are not motivated solely by money. In fact, employees are motivated by many intangible factors, like recognition, autonomy, camaraderie, and so on. Yes, money matters too, but so does autonomy. The flexibility (or the illusion) to manage one’s work schedule is an important factor to feeling like one is in control of one’s life. Take away autonomy and you take away a big reason many people can withstand the daily grind, the long commute, and the time away from their family. It’s no wonder why people – even non-Yahoo! employees – got upset.

Another reason people were mad is due to the notion of face time, which loosely means the amount of time you are at the office, whether or not you are actually being productive. This slang carries a negative connotation of looking busy even if you are not really. With all the technology and productivity tools at our disposal these days, many of us can be very efficient at our jobs. Yet, we are still primarily paid for our time, whether or not we are hourly employees.

Let’s say, your manager wants you to put together a presentation by next week. If you are very efficient, experienced, or just extraordinarily talented, you might be able to finish this deliverable while still managing to leave the office at a reasonable hour. Another not-so-experienced colleague might have to stay later to get up the learning curve.

Yet, even if you finished your deliverable ahead of schedule by being efficient and organized, would you get credit? Most likely, instead of praising you for your efficiency, your manager might wonder about the quality of your work. Why were you so quick to finish the deliverable? Were you being thorough enough? However, she might give your colleague ample credit for “working so hard”, a.k.a. staying late.

I have seen face time at work in big corporations and small start-ups. In fact, it may be most acute at start-ups, where the pile of work can be limitless, and the timeline severely compressed. The more people hang around the office, even if it’s playing foosball, the more they are seen as being committed to the start-up. I think one reason why people were unhappy with the Yahoo! memo is it reinforces the notion that face time trumps output. No matter how efficient you are at meeting your deliverable, you still have to do the time.

At the end of the day, everyone has to find a work environment that suits them, their values, and their lifestyle. Yahoo’s message may be blunt, but it is a clear signal to many who value efficiency and autonomy that the new culture may turn out to be a little less friendly to employees going forward. The good news, as my headhunter friend in Silicon Valley tells me, is that technology talent is in hot demand right now. Time will soon tell how this will affect Yahoo’s turnaround.

What about you, dear reader? Do you think face time matters? How about autonomy?


About Debbie Grage

Debbie Grage
Debbie is an ALIST founder and Career Section Editor. She holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her past community roles have included serving as CFO of the Asian Society at the Stanford GSB, and as a board member with the Association of Women MBA (SF). Debbie is also founder of the MenMuu Leadership Institute and specializes in helping professionals who want to manage their careers proactively. Her career blog can be found at