Microsoft has grown quite fond of doing Reddit IamAs (‘ask me anything’) recently. It is one of the many practices still continued from the Steven Sinofsky era. And to the company’s credit their employees have been fairly honest and open in answering questions. Following the Visual Studio 2013 launch well known Microsoftie Scott Hanselman along other members of the ASP.NET team held an IamA on reddit. The questions asked often veer off the intended topic.
User “bmoneybryan” asked:
For Scott Hanselman (@shanselman):
This is pretty off-topic, but I believe you once mentioned you worked from home, if a new CEO inserts a policy like Yahoo or HP where you have to work in the office at Microsoft, will you still be working at Microsoft?
Some employees mentioned you’re an expert in African-American culture, is this true?
Mr. Hanselman answered the questions quite honestly:
Working from Home: Yes, if they tell me I have to move, I will quit.
Black Culture: Well, I’m a cis-gendered white dude, so I can’t be an expert on AA culture, but I have studied AA history as well as African History in college. I’m raising black sons, so I have an vested interest in the success of people of color. I’ve presented at PoC conferences like Blogging While Brown and FOCUS100. So I’d say I’m an advocate and enthusiast, but clearly not an expert on anything.
Three more Microsoft employees chimed in:
[bloodytemplar] As another MS employee, I can pretty safely say, Will. Never. Happen. A ridiculous, HUGE number of Microsoft employees are remote only, myself included (I’m in the support side of things, and pretty much every person in my 2000 member org is remote). A Yahoo-style edict like that would equate to half the company leaving.
[landwomble] MSFT here. This is true. Such a huge percentage is fully remote, myself included. My lunch break consists of a milky brew and walking the dog [...] MS will never go office only.
[clemensv] I’ll quit with Hanselman if that were to happen. I work in a different corner of the Windows Azure engineering group with a Redmond job [...]
For some brief background, Marissa Mayer implemented a highly controversial policy at Yahoo where all employees were banned from working at home and are required to work in the office either at their headquarters in Sunnyvale, California or in the New York office. Any employees who did not want to comply with the policy were fired. Mrs. Mayer was not the not the first person to implement such a policy, but it was unusual for a technology company to do this. In addition to this, you may recall Yahoo had gone through a number of CEOs, previous to Mayer, in a short span of time. Previous to Mayer’s reign, employees had been recruited specifically with the promise they would be allowed to work remotely. These individuals were understandably quite unhappy. When Meg Whitman took control over HP she implemented a similar policy and has banned her employees from working primarily from home. These female CEOs are so lovely, aren’t they? Michael Dell has done exactly the opposite. Since taking the company private he is pushing for half of his employees to work from home. (If you want to know more about this, search for Kara Swisher’s posts on Mayer’s policies at AllThingsD)
I sympathetic to companies that allow their employees to telecommute and work from home. Many years ago my father worked for a company that was eventually acquired by HP. To shorten a long story, my grandmother became very ill, and my mother had to go to India to help take care of her. I was very young at the time, and the company allowed my father to work from home for a few months to look after me while my mother was away.
That being said I think Mayer and Whitman have made the tough but correct decision. Implementing these type of policies is an easy way is an easy way to find out where people’s priorities lie. Those are dedicated to the company stay, those who are not leave. There is a big difference between being on campus working & collaborating with people in person than doing it remotely. From my own experience, there is a huge difference in college culture living on campus compared to a few miles off campus. I think Scott Hanselman is a great individual, his family is clearly a priority for him and he has been quite open about it. But consider this, if you were to ask anyone what Steve Ballmer’s love and passion is, there is only one answer: Microsoft. It’s in his DNA. I think you want people in a company where their work is their #1 priority. There is nothing wrong with having other priorities in life, but it does not bode well a company in a highly competitive landscape going through a transformational change to have employees where work is not their primary priority.
Microsoft is a massive, now well over 100k employees with the acquisition of Nokia, the new CEO will have to reduce the size of the company. This type of policy, at least for the core groups at Microsoft, is at least something to seriously consider.
Share your thoughts in the comments. Is Microsoft too large, too small? Am I totally off base on this topic? Would robots make better employees?