by Paul Rupert
More than 1200 hi-tech start-ups and household names from Yelp to Salesforce call San Francisco home. Web phenom Reddit, the self-styled “front page of the internet,” is small but influential. It became its own lead story last week as word leaked out that it had offered its numerous, and in many cases long-term remote employees, the choice of relocation to San Francisco headquarters or a “generous severance package.”
The move-here-or-move-on edict did not seem tied to performance issues, the collapse of collaboration or imminent financial or competitive peril. In fact, the high-flying firm had just secured a $50 million investment from a group of tech funders (unrelated to this policy, we are told.)
Reddit resembles a mini-Yahoo, but is it?
Critics and supporters alike were quick to draw parallels between the decisions of Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo to “ban telecommuting” early last year. While “bans” may resemble “ultimatums” and terminating offsite work and workers may look the same, the similarities stop there:
YAHOO’S SINKING SHIP vs. REDDIT’S RISING BOAT
When Yahoo acted, even critics had to agree that it was in deep trouble, maybe needing all hands on deck. True or not, it was said Ms. Mayer inherited “sub-performing Yahoos working at home.” She “had to” clean house.
Reddit’s fortunes are quite the opposite. Seasoned Valley investors chose to put their cash into Reddit for its track record and its prospects. It is riding high, not taking water.
YAHOO’S VAGUE COMMUNICATION vs. REDDIT’S POOR MESSAGING
Yahoo’s original memo never “banned” telecommuting. It told staff that telecommuters would have to discuss their status with managers. Then Yahoo went silent. A national Rorschach test ensued.
Reddit CEO Yishan Wong was blunt with his remotes: move to SF or accept severance. First wanting decisions within a week, the goal is now year-end. He tweets: “Intention is to get whole team under one roof for optimal teamwork. Our goal is to retain 100 percent of the team.”
YAHOO’S ‘UNKNOWNS’ vs. REDDIT’S VETERANS
Marissa Mayer came to Yahoo from Google, a stranger to telecommuting. She found 250 of them on her staff. They weren’t hers.
Reddit’s whole staff seems to number less than 100. But its remotes are home-grown, long-term and proven quantities. Presumably they have played an integral role in building this robust site.
Did Yahoo set up a tripwire to the north – and did Reditt trip?
The “Marissa Mayer” moment set off a national dialogue that roiled the blogosphere and media for a year. While millions of words were being written and spoken, Supervisor David Chiu of San Francisco was acting. Responsible for a city that was technologizing and gentrifying at a rapid rate, he proposed a line in the sand for business behavior re: flexible arrangements.
He and a unanimous Board of Supervisors passed the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance (FFWO). Taking a first step in distinguishing a more family-friendly city by the bay from the anything goes employment practices of Silicon Valley’s Sunnyvale, the FFWO:
- Requires all SF employers with 20 or more employees to allow them to request flexible schedules without threats or retaliation
- Enables caregivers of children under 18, aging parents or ill spouses to make requests
- A carefully timed process requires a formal request, response within 21 days, and a similar internal appeal process
- FFWO took effect on 1/1/14; process enforcement, with fines, begins 1/1/15
Does the “Right to Request” trump the right to relocate?
Reddit’s actions might strike some as unremarkable. Others may be shocked and wonder if the process used violates the letter or spirit of SF’s new ordinance.
The City’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement judges and enforces the letter of FFWO. It might take into account the following:
- All Reddit employees, have a right to request caregiving options, including remote work
- Requests can be refused for specified and objective business reasons
- The employee can submit requests two to three times in a calendar year
The situation of a given remote will determine eligibility for this process – and willingness to use it.
San Francisco political, business and community leaders may well weigh in on the spirit of the Reddit’s decision and the FFWO. When Yahoo acted in 2013, the silence from Silicon Valley leaders was deafening. If San Francisco’s goal is to support a more family-friendly high-tech sector, we might expect messages such as these:
- Seemingly arbitrary and sudden decisions that might dislocate families at the beginning of the school year pose multiple and unnecessary burdens.
- Even with a “generous COLA”, San Francisco does not need more unnecessary housing pressure – no matter how incremental.
- Clearly remote work has been and can be made to work – by Reddit itself. A major goal in front of all of us is to perfect it, not reject it.
- In short, this is not how model SF employers of the 21st century behave. It is not a family-friendly path for growth. And Reddit, like Yahoo will be watched as a model.
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