Yahoo announced yesterday that the foundational promise of Internet Age is dead. Effective February 25, 2013, the dream of avoiding human interaction in the workplace has been rescinded by a simple all-employee memorandum (mission statement). The name of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will go down in the history books as the woman who gave second life to all of our social anxieties. She started the fire. With one email, she reinstated the concept of “going to work” and talking to people. In person.
Al Gore, the dingo has eaten your baby.
Yahoo announced this week that its workers could no longer avoid actual work by activating their personal cloaking device, the telecommuting defense. By ending telecommuting at a company that seemed to embody the concept of remote virtual work, Yahoo has decided that no, the Internet is not as good as being there. Only being there is as good as being there. And we’d rather not be there. We’d rather be alone with the world at our fingertips than in a meeting in the office with a few people at arm’s length.
The promise of the Internet has always been that we could hide from other people. Its great benefit was its way of helping us avoid human interaction while pretending to be in a state of perpetual human interaction. We didn’t need to talk; we could text. We didn’t need to call; we could Facebook. Once we start being forced back into the workplace, it’s only a matter of time before we’re forced back into the bars to find dates or we forever lose the gift of making anonymous comments about others without fear of discovery. No one can seriously want those days back.
Today it’s Yahoo, but everyone follows those trendy Internet company practices if they want to compete. Tomorrow it will be your company and mine. Those comfy pajamas will have to go back in the drawer from 7 am until 6 pm. Ladies, you’ll have to keep that bra secured until you safely return home to unwind and untether. Men, you’ll need to brush your teeth and keep your audible flatulence to a bare minimum. Human contact is again mandatory and your ability to face people and communicate in a social situation is a job requirement. It will be on your annual review form, under the heading “Teamwork”.
It could be that the socially awkward will unite via a MeetUp online forum and resist this slide back to the dark ages of the late 1990s. It is not a stretch to imagine an online movement that accuses Yahoo of an unfair labor practice. In the year 2013, certainly it is beyond reasonable expectations to ask employees to share a physical space with people they may not like. In the year 2013, certainly it is beyond reasonable expectations to ask employees to smile at one another when a well-placed emoticon can do the trick.
If businesses begin to embrace the concept of “going to work” again, the ripple effect could carry devastating costs. Online dating sites would be shuttered as workers rediscover the benefits of office romance. Workplace violence would spike as it would become increasingly problematic to gracefully ignore that social pariah that lingers in your office cubicle, talking about his latest visit to the Renaissance festival and his cat’s dental problems, without stirring his unresolved feelings of abandonment as a child. Once he sees the visceral dislike in your eyes, it’s a short trip for him to the Wal Mart for a cursory background check and a high capacity elixir for his pain.
Workers should be trusted to work from any location and management should learn to adapt their 20th century practices to survive in a 21st century world. Results should matter more than process. These are not the real reasons to mourn the end of telecommuting at Yahoo and soon other high tech businesses. We mourn because we have forgotten how to work with live people and the learning curve is just too steep. Besides, we no longer own any clothes that would not violate the dress code.
At Yahoo, the company’s new slogan is one small step backwards for man, one giant leap backwards for mankind: If I don’t see you, you are not working. Trust at work has died alongside the days of telecommuting today, but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the hell of dealing with coworkers in person every day now.
So it’s time to log off and get a shower, people. It’s Hawaiian shirt Wednesday in the office and you are assigned the pineapple snack slices.