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The beginning of the end for working from home?

An area that often stirs much debate are discussions that look to the future – particularly when talking about future technologies or trends. Often the debate around the economic benefits of projects such as the council’s focus on the city centre, ends with a discussion on the impact of working from home. Some argue that more and more people will work from home in the future, diluting the need for expensive transport solutions, while others (such as myself) suggest that current patterns will continue and that there are huge benefits to be had through businesses and employees working closer together. The argument is that while we have the technology to enable working from home or other remote locations, nothing beats being able to quickly share ideas with colleagues in the workplace.

It’s interesting to see that the debate has been flung wide open thanks to the actions of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who in an internal memo to staff announced that she wants people working in the office rather than at home, in a bid to improve the company’s performance.

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

There are obviously lots of arguments for and against, with many people opposed to the move as the Forbes article notes below:

Unsurprisingly, the announcement rankled quite a few Yahoo employees, as well as supporters of workplace flexibility. Flexible work arrangements, from telecommuting to flexible schedules and condensed work weeks, are viewed by many as the way of the future. Flexibility has become an important tool for time-crunched workers, particularly parents, to better juggle work and family responsibilities.

I do like the idea of occasionally being able to work from home, but I don’t agree with primarily working from home and only occasionally making trips to the office. I have worked in teams before where people were frequently away from the office, and felt that the environment was never quite as productive. It will be interesting to see over time if Yahoo’s policy sees an improvement in performance and subsequently if other companies follow suit.

24 comments to The beginning of the end for working from home?

  • obi

    Mayer has built a nursery next to her office for the child and her nanny. That isn’t an option for most parents. Maybe she’d be a bit more flexible if she had to drop her son off at day care, then work from home (or take the day off) every time the child had a snotty nose.

  • SDR

    I don’t find this surprising. Based on my experience with software development the team works best when in one office more often than not.

  • Dan

    There was an intersting quote in the NY Times article about this: Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm. “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”

  • Greg N

    Not just overseas either.

    Company I know has also clamped down on teams working from home for the rest of the Financial Year.(end of March) and possibly longer.
    They’re an IT company so can work remotely quite easily, but doesn’t do much for team cohesion if no ones every in the office or 1 or 2 days at best, even with the shiny tools like Skype and remote access.
    Helps that most of the employees either have grown up kids or no kids.

  • Greg N

    Classic case of “Do as I say”, not Do as I do. More than a few CEOs and politicians suffer from that disease.

    Don’t expect her or Yahoo to feature on the top places to work any time soon.

    If I was a stock holder I think I’d be putting in a sell order if I hadn’t already – all the good.smart people are going to get up and vote with their feet before they get lumbered with the workload of those who do leave and never get replaced…

  • Anon

    Sounds to me that its more like desperation on the part of Mayer, looking for something to blame and an excuse to reduce staffing levels.
    There has been quite a bit of innovation going on in the background by the development and engineering tech heads at Yahoo, just like at Google, but even less of it at Yahoo is being put out to beta and publicized. That’s more a problem of disconnect between them and the management.

    There is plenty of open sourced web based collaborative software bubbling up that Yahoo or could adopt to put itself in the the middle of telecommuting, just as Google is beginning to do now with Google drive/docs. Now is not the time for such a company as Yahoo to be signaling its going in the opposite direction.

  • An Anon

    Sounds to me that its more like desperation on the part of Mayer, looking for something to blame and an excuse to reduce staffing levels.
    There has been quite a bit of innovation going on in the background by the development and engineering tech heads at Yahoo, just like at Google, but even less of it at Yahoo is being put out to beta and publicized. That’s more a problem of disconnect between them and the management.

    There is plenty of open sourced web based collaborative software bubbling up that Yahoo or could adopt to put itself in the the middle of telecommuting, just as Google is beginning to do now with Google drive/docs. Now is not the time for such a company as Yahoo to be signaling its going in the opposite direction.

  • Duncan

    I remember being at University, studying/assignments at home fluff round for ages don’t get much done and get distracted far too easy.
    At the Library doing an assignment, need more breaks but in the working time I was far more productive.
    I think working from home is good less distractions etc but would never be a replacement.

    • Clearly there is no hard and fast rule about this but what we do know is that the technological ability to work away from offices has in no way led to the end of the office, as predicted, and in fact has been paralleled by an increase of urbanisation and the triumph, as Ed Glaeser so memorably put it, of the city.

      Next.

      Oh yes the driverless car, that will make Transit unneeded and make auto-dependent places thrive, from the same people that predicted the death of the city….

  • axio

    I work from home and all I say is it has been great. My productivity is through the roof, and while I can’t measure my innovation, it hasn’t noticeably changed from being in the office. Insisting on having people in the office really speaks to a failure of management – if deliverables and progress are clear, communication channels are open, and decisions are made collaboratively then things work fine. This doesn’t mean I have ‘well-defined’ outputs, just that is it easy to see that I’ve been working. I have read literature on team proximity and casual communication which suggests a co-located team is best – but what it fails to do though is compare the improvement due to that with the losses due to reduced productivity from noiser environments and greater interruption.

  • Bryce P

    My wife has a mix of working from home (administrative so very productive) and also in an office in town (meetings / planning). Meetings are much better face to face and not over Skype especially when you are talking about a lot of money.

  • Tamaki

    It’s not a black or white question. If office dwellersworked at home one day a week and avoided rush hour on another day then it woul take a lot of pressure off peak roads and Public transport.

  • Drizzt

    So long as the end isn’t homing from work then it should all balance out in the end surely?

  • star

    The argument was never about working from home. It was about not needing to have every job in the country located in the Auckland cbd so that the only way people could get to work was by train.

  • Dave Howick

    Yahoo need to make massive improvements so just another way of getting rid of a few hundred more human resource units and keeping the creative types left within whipping/yelling/screaming distance. Trend is for increasing WFH e.g http://www.canberratimes.com.au/it-pro/business-it/working-from-home-growing-in-popularity-20130225-2f23e.html and for cut backs in office space/decentralisation – even Wellington is in on the act http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/commercial-property/8351984/Public-service-may-leave-city. Online shopping too is taking off massively in the last year with the trend seeing a move from high street stores to industrial sites and local dark stores so CBDs will look very different in a few years time.

  • Ari

    the basic premise makes sense and seems to hold up amongst businesses. If you want more productivity in selective fields then working from home stacks up well, but not for all jobs. if you want to generate more innovation then you need people in the same office in order to collaborate better. no matter what people say, Skype is not a replacement for face to face contact any more than phone or email. they are just mediocre substitutes.

    • starjoe

      Having people working in one building doesn’t really have all that much to do with forcing every job to be based in the cbd. For the industry I work in about 6 companies are located in the cbd but given they are all so far apart that they work no better had they been in different parts of the city.

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