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Yahoo! and the Myth of the “Internal” Memo

You can debate the merits of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s “ban” on working from home until next year (which is likely when we’ll have a sense of whether or not this management move was a winner), but you can’t debate the importance of the HR director’s internal memo in fueling the debate. This “internal” document is featured – complete with proprietary and confidential warnings – on the hallowed tech site AllThingsD.

This clunky internal announcement has been panned alternately (and, in some cases, simultaneously) as Yahoo’s (and, in turn, Mayer’s) broad rejection of working from home as a viable career option; an attack on single mothers and involved parents; reneging on various flex agreements and promises; evidence of a “backward” technology company; and a sure-fire catalyst to mass exodus.

Much of the criticism is the result of what folks are reading into the memo, not the actual content. Sure, it suggests that employees will need to plan to work from the office in June, but it doesn’t say there is no room for discussion or that it’s forever. It doesn’t address issues of childcare benefits (which Yahoo undoubtedly offers). It doesn’t offer severance or job placement assistance for those unable to make the commute (an immediate and pressing concern for those affected by the change). It’s a brief and vague memo that’s clearly angered more than a few Yahoos and many others in the blogosphere judging by the avalanche of posts and comments.

In follow up to days of widespread criticism, Yahoo issued a response:

“This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home,” it said. “This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.”

So why not say that in the first place?

The take-away here: There is no such thing as internal communication. In our hyper-connected world, internal documents are also external documents. Why leave it to employees or, worse yet, the industry to speculate on your intentions?

It’s not enough to have the HR team draft up your internal memos, or the legal team, or the management team or even the PR team. Smart companies look to all of these resources and leverage their respective strengths and perspectives. Think of communications like a load of laundry. They have to go through all the cycles – soak, wash, rinse, spin and dry.

Solid communications planning anticipates questions in advance and provides answers or a clear path for getting the answers. Yahoo may need to reevaluate its resources – either that or the PR team just scored a home run because it seems everyone’s talking about the Yahoo working from home ban!

Traci Stuart

Blattel News

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