Watching the debate this week around Yahoo and its ‘leaked’ (?) memo that it is to pull all employees back into the office and not allow them to work from home from June 2013 has been pretty intense stuff. A nice bit of PR of course which has got everyone debating with 2 clear camps forming. Either you agree that homeworking is more productive and is the clear ‘future of work’ and see Yahoo as disappearing back into the Stone Age, or you believe that the way forward for the sake of innovation is to keep all employees on site.
Not wanting to add to the throng particularly but finding myself writing this anyway *sigh* I’d like to put a third mediocre possibility out there and suggest that in some instances working from home does work, while in other instances it just doesn’t.
From a business perspective (which, in my view is the only one to have) having workers based at home or scattered around in ‘hubs’ can have advantages including less time commuting unnecessarily, the opportunity for employees to focus on a specific project without interruptions from coworkers (KPI’s can be more focused on output rather than length of time spent on a project) and the advantage of utilising quality workers who aren’t in the immediate vicinity of the company office. There are numerous reports out there which back this claim.
Yet it is not always the case that working from home works as one ex-Yahoo employee has admitted, saying that Yahoo was right to make the decision as in their view working from home led to ‘people slacking off like crazy’. Other studies also show that although people who work at home are significantly more productive it is trickier to be more innovative. As Dr John Sullivan notes:
“… telecommuting unfortunately reduces innovation. And because innovation brings in much higher profits than the traditional goal of corporate efficiency, many firms are now learning the value of emphasizing innovation as a primary strategic business goal.”
He also comments how face to face interaction increases collaboration, competition and energy, and how it increases learning and helps break down functional silos.
Companies like Google and Yahoo where innovation is at the core of their business therefore need to keep employees physically together and Google have known this for a long time – they only allow employees to work from home on a case by case basis. But for Google it’s not just about keeping people together in one spot it’s how they interact and work within their environment – that for them is a crucial key to innovation. Right now Google in the process of designing a new 100,000-square-metre campus for San Francisco Bay, California where the focus is on how people work as Dezeen magazine notes :
“Google gathered masses of information on how its employees work and what kind of spaces they want. “We started not with an architectural vision but with a vision of the work experience,” according to David Radcliffe, a civil engineer who oversees Google’s property. “So we designed this from the inside out … No employee will be more than a two-and-a-half minute walk from any other to encourage a “casual collision of the workforce” and the spread of ideas throughout the company, said Radcliffe.”
The bottom line is that it is the bottom line which counts and Yahoo has a lot to do to catch up with its competitors. So why the fuss? After all companies such as Bank of America, for example, which once allowed remote working, decided late last year to require employees in certain roles to come back to the office also. It seems to me that the CEO of Yahoo has made the right business decision…
But wait! How could I forget? The final element to the puzzle which got people hot footing it to their blogs… The CEO of Yahoo is a woman who recently had a baby and returned to work 2 weeks after its birth and is therefore seen by many as not supporting women by not supporting home working…. The scandal and extra PR hype that has caused! Well, what more can I say but ‘congratulations Marissa’ – a job well performed by a person with a job to do. For women to prove they mean business then let’s not be held hostage to emotion and be sure to use all the tricks of the trade why don’t you
Of course the ultimate twist in the tail would be if once this hype died down Marissa then sent out a further memo stating that as from June 2013 there was to be free onsite childcare facilities for all employees. Now that would flick the sentiment score… We could all then run off to our blogs and debate the productivity of those working in the office with the kids onsite (no worries of childcare – luxury of sharing a coffee and free cooked food with your colleagues while working) versus productivity of working at home (worries of childcare, picking up and dropping off and having coffee and cook your own food all alone)…