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The Data That Drove Yahoo's Telecommuting Ban 529

Posted by timothy
from the but-think-about-the-savings-on-snacks dept.
Stiletto writes "Business Insider and All Things D are reporting that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to ban telecommuting was data-driven, as you'd expect out of the former Google exec. After spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo parking lots were, Mayer consulted Yahoo's VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough. Despite all the outrage and flak she's getting from those outside the company for the move, some ex-employees are praising the decision, citing abuse, slacking off, and general 'unavailability' of folks working from home."
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The Data That Drove Yahoo's Telecommuting Ban

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:53AM (#43104917)
    I'm in the office right now, slacking off, and have been all day. As far as any "Data Driven" metrics are concerned though, I've been a star employee.
  • best data: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:55AM (#43104949)

    is work being done? if timelines are met, and dates don't slip, then the number of times i log into a vpn isn't a valid metric.

    period.

  • good idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru (723634) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:57AM (#43104975)

    I can see telecommuting being ok when you've got an established company and clear objectives/projects, etc. When you're reorganizing, just starting, or trying to turn the fortunes of your company around I think you really have to work "together".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:58AM (#43104991)

    Inability to lead is what causes people to slack off. Employees will slack off same as when they were telecommuting. It would be much brighter to fix the root cause of the problem: lack of motivation. For that, it would take a different CEO. For now, Yahoo will big digging itself into the ground.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:58AM (#43104997)

    Conversely, I'm working from home today, and between webmail and a slow / flaky VPN I'm not attached to the work network except when I need to exchange some documents.

  • Re:good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:59AM (#43105005)

    That had nothing to do with being in the office or not.

    I bet most of the posters right now are in the office. People will slack off no matter what. Either you get your job done or you do not, how long it takes in the allotted time frame or what you do while doing it should not matter.

  • Re:Motivation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus (783565) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:00AM (#43105017)

    For many roles hours in office/on VPN is a completely worthless metric.

    It is not a worthless metric for all roles. Phone/Net tech support for example. If they are not logged in, they are not working. Even there it's an easily gamed metric.

    Remote work creates new challenges. Perhaps Yahoos management hasn't been up to it.

  • by JWW (79176) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:01AM (#43105029)

    Exactly. Butts in seats is sooooo much easier to measure than productivity. Measuring productivity requires actual work by the managers!!

  • by alen (225700) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:02AM (#43105049)

    if you're going to slack off, log on to VPN and slack off.
    i work with people who work from home and offices in different states. everyone is always available and you know they are working because there are always emails flowing and tickets being done

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:02AM (#43105053) Homepage Journal

    If they did it by the numbers, and they had all this data, couldn't they see which telecommuters were effective, and shitcan all the other ones or force them into the office?

  • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:04AM (#43105063)

    Having managed in office employees, how is that any different?

    If people do not answer their cell phones or email, fire them. No different than them being unfindable in the office or not aswering desk phones.

  • Re:good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:12AM (#43105153)

    I have several. Thanks for trying though.

    I know each of them very well and they know me. If they get their jobs done by the deadline they can be jerking it at their desks for all I care.

    I never said they were cogs, just that I expect them to get their work done in a timely fashion and if they can do that in two hours and spend the rest of the day on slashdot that is my fault not theirs. Even more likely it means everything is going well and their jobs are not the sort were hours are that predictable.

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:14AM (#43105177)
    It works at your company because the management is (probably) competent, and knows how to motivate people to work. Management was not Yahoo's strongest quality
  • Re:Motivation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:16AM (#43105189) Homepage

    I wonder if the metric they were using would completely miss people that are constantly logged onto the VPN. What log were they looking at exactly? If I am logged in for more than 30 days at a time, would they think I never did any work?

    Seems like a flawed and rather lazy approach to actually checking up on the actual work output of your employees.

  • Re:best data: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PoolOfThought (1492445) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:18AM (#43105217)
    If management is under utilizing you as a resource then it's important for them to know that especially in a company that is trying to turn things and around and get better at what they do without spending more money to make it happen. Many employees won't want to just pass that information along and be given more work. Under utilization of existing resources is something that can be reasonably extracted using that particular metric (time spent logged in). I also understand (and so does Mayer I'm sure) that it could also mean a lot of other things, but the easiest way to be sure about it is to remove the other variables. Especially when the other complaints (perhaps jealous outbursts, but perhaps not) existed.
  • by joebok (457904) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:18AM (#43105221) Homepage Journal

    I suspect it's a simple case of psychology on that - come down hard at first, then ease up. It has the potential to rattle loose the weak links and have Yahoo emerge a leaner, stronger company because of it. The people that stay will be more or less self-selected, will feel a bond of having endured a common hardship - and I think that can translate into the kind of trust needed to bring back flexible working policies. The more I've thought about it, the more I think this move will, in the long run, turn out well for Yahoo.

  • Re:good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:19AM (#43105239) Homepage

    They either get the job done or they don't.

    Fixating on anything else is just an excuse for micromanagement and petty megalomania.

  • Re:Motivation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daem0n1x (748565) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:19AM (#43105245)

    Every time I hear people complaint about lazy employees, I blame their managers. I mean, what are managers for? I don't expect them to micromanage what everyone is doing all the time, but their role is to receive the work, distribute it and check that it's delivered on time and quality.

    If there are slackers, I can't believe their managers don't know about it. Unless they're also slackers, or don't give a shit. But then the company has far worse problems to attend than telecommuting.

  • by Xest (935314) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:19AM (#43105247)

    Yes, basically what TFA tells us is not that working from home was ever a problem at Yahoo, but that Yahoo has never ever had any way of measuring productivity, settings goals, or ensuring people are achieving their targets.

    It sounds like it was basically a free for all, turn up, don't turn up, do what you want, no one will care or measure you!

    It sounds like working from home is their scapegoat instead of refusing to admit to extremely incompetent management.

    Yahoo has been haemorrhaging talent for years, removing perks from them like working from home is only going to make the problem worse, especially if they're still refusing to admit to fundamental problems in their company like the aforementioned lack of ability to set goals or check whether anyone is actually doing anything.

    Now all that's going to happen is they'll lose more talent, productivity will probably go down as people are tired from long probably sometimes unnecessary commutes, costs will go up as they have to pay for more heating/lighting/office space and Yahoo will continue it's downward spiral

    I actually had some sympathy for the move before I saw this story, now it's obvious the decision had no demonstrable merit. More fool them.

  • have to disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chirs (87576) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:21AM (#43105263)

    I've worked in teams where it was very important to get groups of people together somewhere and draw stuff on whiteboards with everyone else poking holes in the ideas or making suggestions for improvements. This is especially true when a project is just getting started and you're working out lots of details. Later on when something is mature you have a lot less scope for innovation (you're constrained by what is already there) so it's not as critical.

    Yes, you can do this to some extent with technology, but it's not as good as getting a bunch of people together physically.

    That said, I've been a full-time teleworker for 7 years. It works for me because I have a well-defined area of responsibility, I worked in person with almost everyone I deal with prior to moving away, and I can communicate effectively by voice/text (not everyone can do this effectively when not physically present).

  • by fermion (181285) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:21AM (#43105273) Homepage Journal
    I can slack off anywhere, but at home I can do housework, cook dinner, run an errand, sex, lots of stuff. The idea is not that you can't do some of these things at the office,but that your choices are more limited.

    It really sounds like the employees, as some often do, simply took advantage of a good situation. I have, and have known people, who have had such opportunities. You keep yourself logged in. You stay next to a phone. If you leave, you make sure you can check problems from where you are. You check email frequently. It is a matter of discipline. it is hard. It is why some people make more than others. Those who don't need supervision do not incur the expense of supervision.

  • by HerculesMO (693085) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:24AM (#43105309)

    No, I don't think so. Since Yahoo has "webmail", just like every other modern company, you can converse with coworkers and team members without ever needing VPN. You can write your code offline, and merge commits later, or even have a local SVN and push it upstream later.

    The sad fact is that while the CEO is supposed to be creating strategy for the company to achieve, she's not done that. She's going after people who have a flexible schedule. Does this fix the fact that Yahoo has no future roadmap for well.... anything? No. It just makes good engineers who have kids start looking elsewhere, lazy employees move the geography of where they slack. It doesn't fix management of those employees, it doesn't change the way productivity is measured, and it doesn't set them any goals to achieve.

    In the time Mayer has been CEO, Yahoo has announced a total of zero noteworthy items. The fact that this is the biggest news out of Yahoo is more telling to their poor business model than anything else, and shows that Mayer was better suited to being an engineer than a CEO responsible for driving the business of a technology firm.

  • Some employees... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ryanrule (1657199) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:26AM (#43105325)

    "Despite all the outrage and flak she's getting from those outside the company for the move, some ex-employees are praising the decision, citing abuse, slacking off, and general 'unavailability' of folks working from home.'

    Yeah, and that is an issue with MANAGEMENT, not the underlings. If my boss doesnt know what I am doing, that I am on task, it is THEIR failure, not mine.

  • Not a good metric (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:27AM (#43105339)

    Part of the benefit to working from home is the lack of interruptions and the ability to just get your head down and do your work. If you're complaining that they "aren't checking in enough" or "unavailable", you're basically complaining that they are using working from home as effectively as they can.

    Now if you have a real productivity metric that shows they are less productive, then fair enough. But half of the reason working from home is a benefit is to get away from pointless unwork interruptions like that. Demanding that they check in with their managers is basically saying "we don't believe you are working, stop everything you are doing every so often to reassure us that you are working", and I'm not surprised that this renders these people less productive.

  • Oh goodie, metrics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tridus (79566) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:27AM (#43105343) Homepage

    At my work, the people who do support got a new management structure. Their management is big on metrics. Sadly, their metric is "how many tickets did you close."

    Unsurprisingly, service levels have gone to total shit. The people who actually solve hard problems take more time than the ones who bounce tickets to other people and only handle easy ones, and thus don't look good to the morons in charge. What used to take minutes now takes hours, but apparently it's "more efficient."

    I see a lot of the same type of faulty reasoning here. Slacking off happens at work all the time, and people "being unavailable" is just code for "I can't walk over and talk about my dog for 45 minutes". I doubt their previous VPN logs really say a lot that's useful, but if there were actual abusers they should have been dealt with. Blanket bans don't tend to work.

    It's particularly weird in Yahoo's case since it's already not exactly a place that top tier talent wants to go, and this isn't going to help them recruit.

  • by Ryanrule (1657199) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:28AM (#43105367)

    It shall be leaner of talent than it will of slackers.

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:33AM (#43105427)

    I only connect to VPN if I need to see a VNC session. I do all my coding/verilog work locally and ignore VPN (and use our webmail to see what's going on).

    She just wants to fire people, the data is a pretense.

  • It's a Mgmt Issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tungstencoil (1016227) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:34AM (#43105437)
    I've worked at places that are heavily remote and heavily not. I've seen it done successfully and not.

    One place, when I was on team A 100% on-site, I interacted with my manager very minimally. We had little direction, lots of bureaucracy, and a slow pace of accomplishing anything. I moved to another team B, 100% remote, interacted with my manager a lot, we had lots of planning, direction, and follow-up, and got stuff DONE.

    I've seen it time and again: the overwhelming majority of people need leadership. What kind of leadership is specific to the individual; good mgmt can tailor their style to individual needs. Rare - much rarer than most people think - is someone who needs no leadership.

    What happens is that remote teams can exacerbate management failings. People slack off; some people work in chunks (as I do - I will goof off for a couple of hours and then pound out a day's work), some people work slow and steady. If you're results-oriented, you can measure this. If you manage people correctly, it can be done remote, on-site, or blended.

    Managing remote teams requires a different set of skills. Most places make the mistake of assuming a remote worker is just like an on-site worker, to be treated the same. They're not. It's not better or worse, just different.
  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:43AM (#43105545)
    No, but when you *never* connect to the VPN all day, that says something, doesn't it?
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:44AM (#43105559)

    Likewise, we're hearing from people close to Yahoo executives and employees that she made the right decision banning work from home.

    "The employees at Yahoo are thrilled," says one source close to the company.

    "There isn't massive uprising. The truth is, they've all been pissed off that people haven't been working."

    If it works for the employees, then our opinions here don't mean much in the debate.

  • by jodido (1052890) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:47AM (#43105599)
    "extremely incompetent management" that allowed slacking off. New management is not allowing slacking off, or at least trying to put a lid on it. I don't see a "scapegoat" here.
  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:51AM (#43105647) Journal

    That's the problem using any metric, really...

    If I wanted to slack off and pretend to work (like the rest of the team would ever let that happen!), I'd simply fire up the VPN, then have some small program randomly open and close certain binaries on the remote servers, etc.

    At work? Meh - I could slack off very easily by simply walking around a lot carrying papers, chatting with friends, or whatever. Far too many ways to slack off in a cube farm.

    Problem is, when I was telecommuting? I was too busy on the phone in conferences w/ remote company clients, had deadlines to meet, and in IM sessions with other team members helping them out (and getting help). Because I worked on the servers, I had VPN open from 8am to 6pm on most days... working. Now, I show up at 8, then leave at 5.

  • Re:good idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by s.petry (762400) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @11:53AM (#43105675)

    In my experience the only "together" available person-to-person is social. So meetings become opportunities to socialize and play status games (I called a bigger meeting than you so I have more status than you) rather than tools to accomplish business objectives.

    It's not about social ranking in a good environment. It's about camaraderie, mentoring, and learning to work together. You can be the best quarter back in the world, but if you can't work with the center you will fail. If you can't get along with your team members, they will laugh as you get pummeled by defense. The team will lose much more than win.

    Sounds like you are an egocentric person that believes that you are all that's needed for your company to survive. That works in very small shops, but does not work at larger comanies. If you are not the egocentric person, then you have never been a member of a good team and I do have sympathy.

  • by Xest (935314) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:00PM (#43105775)

    Yes, that you're busy working on something that doesn't need connection to Yahoo's central systems probably.

    That or Yahoo's hiring process is so flawed they ended up employing society's layabouts and nothing else.

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:03PM (#43105813) Journal

    It's still an imperfect metric.

    I can make a script to randomly send data to and from servers, then delete the data once it arrives at the destination. If I uploaded, oh, a geolocation IP file to random servers, that's 250MB each go. If you're just measuring MB/GB, I could be a top performer in less than a week by stint of a simple script. ;)

    In order to reliably measure employee productivity remotely, you have to do one of two things:

    1) install a keylogger and mouse tracker on every employee's remote laptop, some BI bits to the VPN connections and mail servers, then have teams combing through the resulting data. Be prepared to add FTE slots, disk space, a server or so, and a lot of budget for this.

    2) allow only the people who are known to perform well in the office to telecommute, and insure they work on deadline-driven projects with measurable goals and milestones. As an alternative, insure that they have definitive SLA's to meet if their job is problem/solution-driven as opposed to project-driven. Also insure that they come in to work on a periodic basis, distance permitting. Be certain you have competent managers in place to insure, refine, and tweak as needed.

    Obviously one of these is easier to do, save for that last bit. ;)

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:11PM (#43105915) Journal

    Sort of... but you can always force the non-performers to come in daily, while the top performers are allowed to work remotely as a benefit/perk.

  • by micheas (231635) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:39PM (#43106247) Homepage Journal

    Which is probably phase 2 at yahoo.

    But, getting there might well mean everyone comes into the office and then you hand out the perk.

    I would expect telecommuting to return to yahoo, after the current problems are dealt with.

  • by Applekid (993327) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:45PM (#43106331)

    That's the problem using any metric, really...

    If I wanted to slack off and pretend to work (like the rest of the team would ever let that happen!), I'd simply fire up the VPN, then have some small program randomly open and close certain binaries on the remote servers, etc.

    At work? Meh - I could slack off very easily by simply walking around a lot carrying papers, chatting with friends, or whatever. Far too many ways to slack off in a cube farm.

    Problem is, when I was telecommuting? I was too busy on the phone in conferences w/ remote company clients, had deadlines to meet, and in IM sessions with other team members helping them out (and getting help). Because I worked on the servers, I had VPN open from 8am to 6pm on most days... working. Now, I show up at 8, then leave at 5.

    The metrics don't have to be so obtuse. Your employees are assigned to projects and they're held accountable on being able to deliver, and having managers on the ball enough to recognize that 25 day estimate for modifying text on a dialog box is bullshit, and a 5 day estimate to make web systems be able to print blueberry waffles at users homes is impossible.

    VPN logins, butts in seats, donuts missing from the lounge are numbers that don't really matter.

  • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:51PM (#43106415)

    Why does being at home guarentee productivity? From the comments, a lot of people appear to believe being in the office is less productive than being at home, but at least with a VPN, it can be measured how much data is being sent to and recieved from the telecomuters. I doubt a former Google exec would make a decision like this lightly.

    Data transfer volume is of practically ZERO utility in measuring productivity. As a developer, doing as much of my work as possible on my local drive is more productive than having it dragged down by network latency. Ditto, I'd say for anyone doing artistic or word-processing work.

    All Data transfer volume metrics tell is how much activity I have on the net. It's no more useful than measuring the amount of time a cubicle is inhabited by a person as opposed to an inflatable Bozo doll.

    I don't buy into the proposition that people can only trade ideas when they're physically proximate. I spent too many years hiding from other people in offices.

    The only REAL metric of value is what the employee produces. If the employee is going to be productive, then location is relatively unimportant. If not, there are plenty of ways to appear productive in an office without doing anything useful at all. Some of them can consume massive amounts of network bandwidth, for that matter.

    If the employee is not productive, either the employee is at fault or the employee's manager is at fault. In fact, ultimately, it's the manager's responsibility to either ensure that the employee is productive or to replace him/her with someone who is productive. No amount of geographical relocation, micro-monitoring, spyware, or other "silver bullets" can take the place of good management.

  • by sjames (1099) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @01:03PM (#43106591) Homepage

    Exactly! Where were the managers when people stopped bothering to log in at all? Where were the weekly or even bi-weekly phone check-ins, or even the occasional email? (Hows the project going, are you as far along as you expected/hoped? What are the sticking points, what can I do to move things along,etc). For that matter, were these people even given objectives to accomplish? An active and engaged manager could not possibly fail to notice that many employees simply not bothering to at least log in once in a while.

    I would go so far as to say that if management was slacking off that much, the employees might not have had much choice. If you aren't given an objective to accomplish and nobody even notices if you do something or not, what can you do? Eventually, logging in starts to feel stupid since nothing happens when you do. Eventually, you don't log in for a week or two and nobody calls to see if you're still breathing or not. So, what to do? Surely not go over the boss' head and suggest a layoff!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @01:38PM (#43107115)

    you're working for a company, there are few and far between those people who actually have a reason not to be regularly communicating with internals.

    Doesn't that heavily depend on what you are doing at said company? If you have a team working on the same pile of code, you would expect a huge amount of communication and cooperation to make sure it all works together. If you have a project with several separate components with a well defined interaction, you would not need as much communication except when there are problems that require extra help.

    The power supply system I work on is rather discrete from other components of the system my group is working on. There is a specific waveform it is supposed to output, and a detailed protocol for incoming commands. The guy working on the user interface doesn't care about the specifics of my work, only that the communication protocol works. The guy working on the hardware that uses the power supply only cares that the waveform is to spec, and the guy working on further down hardware only cares about certain outputs of the system of the guy before him.

    You act like just because someone codes, there needs to be others heavily involved in their code. I am the only one in the group that knows how to write FPGA code, no one else is going to be looking at or touching that. I am not familiar with the libraries used for the user interface, and can't interact with that code. I also can't use or understand the optics simulation and optimization code used by one of the hardware guys. And we all use local revision control repositories (computer data in general has a centralized backup though).

    I don't see what such work has to do with arrogance, or thinking someone is special and central to the company. Everyone in our group is just differentiated with minimal overlap in work. We still have weekly meetings to make sure things are on schedule, and that to identify problems that need extra help. We still get together for whole system tests, although frequently afterwards it is pretty clear which component failed when it doesn't work.

    You basically sound like someone who is working on a highly-nonparallel task telling others that parallel computing can't possibly work, that it would fail due to needing too much communication between processes. That might be true for what you work on, but is not the same elsewhere with different work.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @02:41PM (#43107971)

    That or Yahoo's hiring process is so flawed they ended up employing society's layabouts and nothing else.

    Having a liberal telecommute policy is the first step to attracting those people. If your hiring process and your evaluation process aren't good at identifying those employees, you'll become a haven for them and people who use the policy legitimately will begin to resent having to do all the work while others abuse the system.

    But that really means the problem is with management, not with the policy. And if management is the problem, it almost certainly manifests itself in other ways in the organization.

    Like, for example, the CEO thinking it's appropriate to build a nursery for her own child in her office. Is she really going to be devoting her time to the company when her kid is there, crying - even if the nanny is there? Wouldn't it be better to offer a separate nursery to all the employees, and staff it with caring people who will care for the kids?

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @02:53PM (#43108143)

    The metrics don't have to be so obtuse. Your employees are assigned to projects and they're held accountable on being able to deliver, and having managers on the ball enough to recognize that 25 day estimate for modifying text on a dialog box is bullshit, and a 5 day estimate to make web systems be able to print blueberry waffles at users homes is impossible.

    This. And while it annoys us ICs when managers lead inquisitions into why we're not delivering as unreasonably expected, this is really what they're trying to understand and what a good manager knows how to parse and report up.

    I may deliver something way ahead of schedule and be a ridiculous loser, or I may deliver something 6 months late and be a superhero. My bosses job is to a) understand what I do enough to know when i'm padding (and why, and if maybe the padding is a good idea for the company) and b) understanding what i'm doing on a weekly basis enough to know how busy I am. It really does not matter if I am physically there, rarely do I even SEE my boss and as a hw guy I'm almost always physically at work. But he always knows what I'm doing (and I have had exceptionally good managers).

    This thing where hte CEO pulls VPN logs implies she doens't trust her management chain, and thinks her employees are slacking off. Or she's decided she's got to knife 10% of her workforce cheaply, so she's starting with low hanging fruit.

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