“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” reads the memo to employees from Yahoo! HR head Jackie Reses. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” The blogosphere and the online universe have pushed back with some force to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer's recent edict that evicts homeworkers, and tells remote employees to move back to company office facilities or move on.

I have been thinking a lot about that statement, not only with regards to the accuracy of Meyer's conclusion, but her decision to announce the decision through her executive vice president of people and development (HR), and not through the PR or corporate communications department.

I'll leave reactions about the productivity of home office workers to another post perhaps, and concentrate on the HR vs. PR question.

To say that Yahoo's! HR head doesn't have a traditional human resources background is more than a bit of an understatement.

Prior to Yahoo!, Reses was a private equity firm executive where she focused on investing in media and technology. She also had exposure to the firm’s talent initiatives, including recruiting and training.

Reses reports directly to Mayer, and is responsible for leading human resources and talent acquisition as well as corporate and business development globally. When she was hired Mayer said, “Jackie brings two decades of uniquely applicable operational experience around structuring organizations, programs, and strategies to build world-class teams in media and technology."

Again, we can debate another time about whether operational experience in an organization that acts as the controlling partner in a collection of partnerships that have come together to pool their capital and invest is good training for the top HR position at a company with over 11,000 employees.

Let's get back to the HR vs. PR thing.

Several years ago, many corporations, in the name of "cultural transformation," and in a never-ending search for “synergies and efficiencies," put PR under HR.

Many corporations, in the name of "cultural transformation," and in a never-ending search for “synergies and efficiencies," put PR under HR.

This never made any sense to me. I get that both are responsible for communicating on behalf of the company, but that’s basically where the similarities end.

To begin with, PR should have their own seat at the executive table to ensure they are an integral part of decision-making and corporate strategy.

The speed with which each of these areas operates is entirely different. The PR department typically understands deadline pressures and demands, and is equipped to respond to those deadlines in a way HR is not. It means having a direct line to executives and quick access to all background information, images, video, etc. It means dropping everything you're doing right now, however important it seems, to respond to someone you didn't even know existed five minutes previously to their phone call or email.

The PR department typically understands deadline pressures and demands, and is equipped to respond to those deadlines in a way HR is not.

I don't know too many people in HR who are ever forced to scramble like that in quite the same way. Sure, you have peaks and valleys in your workload, but it's more seasonal. In PR, changes can happen constantly. And writing employee handbooks and company policies that go through endless rounds of vetting, editing and thought processes is a far different discipline than hammering out a a quick press release or quote.

HR has a tendency to keep corporate information close to the vest. You simply can’t do that with reporters or your publics—especially during a crisis or time of intense scrutiny.

HR focuses internally, not externally, and your employees are quite a different audience than the media or blogosphere.

HR focuses internally, not externally, and your employees are quite a different audience than the media or blogosphere.

I asked a friend who works in corporate communications for a large company whose top PR person reports to the top HR person, who directly reports to the CEO, what he thinks of the arrangement in general.

"Corporate management still doesn’t understand that communicating with their audiences and constituencies is a separate discipline. They still think the media can be manipulated by hiding information, by shielding executives, and by misleading employees by burying significant corporate actions in legally required disclosure documents."

"Corporate management still doesn’t understand that communicating with their audiences and constituencies is a separate discipline."

Ouch. Not sure what ignited that little firestorm, but he is probably speaking from actual experience(s) given that he really cited some specifics in response to a broad question. No wonder he didn't want me to use his name or mention his company.

One HR analyst I heard on the radio speculated this home office policy change at Yahoo! is really "a layoff disguised as a policy change" to get rid of surplus workers.

Another said the tone of Reses' memo is so upbeat "it's clear there must be a morale problem at Yahoo!"

Admittedly, changes in employee policies and employee morale issues belong firmly under the heading of HR.

But given the incendiary nature of the Yahoo! changes, I think the announcement should have either come from PR, or better yet the CEO herself.

And I don't think HR and PR should be blended functional areas either.

Thoughts? Comments?

Tags: HR, HR Trends, Human Resources, Industry, Yahoo, Yahoo CEO, Home office, HR Technology, HR vs. PR, Jackie Reses, Marissa Meyer, PR, Yahoo News