Since my recent blog post on Marissa Mayer’s decision to stop working from home at Yahoo I learned something that really astonished me: Credible sources are reporting that Mayer made the decision after looking at Yahoo’s VPN logs.
VPN logs? Seriously?
The whole thing seems so…1990s.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) access is a really crude measurement of activity. In the 1990s, when remote employees were just working on email and static websites, it made sense. But the world has come a long way since then. Today’s collaboration tools track and analyze activity down to a highly granular level: Who’s saying what to whom, who’s lurking, who’s contributing, what’s being read, who’s checking in code when, who’s visiting which clients. All of that matters a great deal more than who’s logged into the VPN.
Speaking of the VPN, let’s talk about that for a moment.
If the reports are accurate, Yahoo views VPN access as an indicator of who is collaborating, who is showing up (remotely) for work. That suggests that Yahoo’s senior leadership expects (and maybe even requires) all collaboration to happen inside the Yahoo network.
All collaboration happens inside the Yahoo network? Again, so 1990s.
I’ve used VPN’s. They’re annoying. They’re slow. Lose connectivity even for a moment and you have to log in again.
My experience with innovative companies–especially in the tech industry–is that a great deal of collaboration happens outside the corporate network. Where in Yahoo’s equation are cloud-hosted collaboration tools like Yammer, Skype, or Socialtext? Where are Salesforce and LinkedIn? Where’s GitHub? Heck, last time I checked Yahoo.com lived outside the VPN.
The collaboration industry is evolving much faster than Yahoo’s (or any company’s) internal network will be able to keep up with. Does Yahoo really expect innovation, connectedness, and collaboration to happen inside the VPN?
At Socialtext, we are constantly using collaborative tools not “officially” sanctioned by the company. Some of them stick, some of them don’t. Some are open source, some are built by friends, some are built by us as skunkworks projects, some are even built by competitors. When our staff use those tools, we don’t view it as slacking. We view it as R&D.
If Yahoo were an investment bank or a pharmaceutical company, I might have some sympathy with their position. But they’re operating in a very lightly regulated industry, and technology innovation is supposed to be what’s going to turn them around.
I have a thoroughly unscientific theory that our world views get defined and frozen at a particular moment in time–usually some time that was particularly good, when we feel we were at our peak, our best selves. Once that world view is frozen, it’s very difficult to change.
I went back and looked at the date when Yahoo’s share price hit its all-time high: January 3, 2000.
That was a pretty good year for VPNs, too.