The recent policy ending the work-from-home option for Yahoo! employees has caused quite an online stir. The story broke over two weeks ago and people are still talking about it (including me, apparently). CEO Marissa Mayer has both been criticized for being out of touch or hypocritical, and praised for making drastic changes to recharge a faltering company. Arguments have been made for the benefits of working from home, including increased productivity, cost-savings for the company and happier employees due to improved work/life balance. Arguments on the other side included the difficulty in collaborating or innovating when physically not together, and that some employees abuse the privilege of working remotely.
Some of these arguments hold true for any industry and are hard to dispute. Technology is readily available for employees to access shared drives, intranets, email and web conferencing. And conversely, employers can monitor whether employees are actually working instead of catching up on the latest Grumpy Cat postings. If employees were to actually work from the office, then employers could accurately forecast the size and term of a lease that would accommodate an entire staff versus workers that trickle in from time-to-time.
Other points in the debate are less clear-cut. Research has been cited showing either an increase or decrease in productivity by working from home, depending on the study you happen to be reading. The merits of being physically together to spark innovation and facilitate collaboration are used to support working in the office, but can togetherness be outweighed by the ability to work for stretches uninterrupted, allowing one to really dig into a project?
Obviously the needs of Yahoo! are not the needs of everyone. There are individual jobs, departments, and even entire fields, that don’t require collaboration or the in-person connection. As for advertising agency positions, media buyers in many agencies have worked for years from home, only coming into the office for scheduled team meetings. Media planning, historically, has worked in the office. (Someone has to eat the treats that the sales reps drop off, after all.)
One point that I have yet to hear tossed into the soup, though, relates to learning. I have not heard anyone talk about learning being facilitated by physically being together. Let’s face it: we learned a lot in college, but it was only enough to get us started. We’re learning on the job. Hopefully, it’s something new every day, no matter how long we’ve been doing our job. I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of new information from my coworkers. They’re a pretty smart group of people. And if I don’t happen to be the one learning, I may be the one facilitating someone else’s fun fact for the day. It’s the kind of good stuff that is brought up in passing, or because someone asked a question or by overhearing a conversation in the kitchen; it’s not the kind of information that would be passed on in an email, in a scheduled call or a conference report.
Yahoo! certainly has different challenges than we do, and the work-at-home issue isn’t one to be solved easily or soon. But for us, we’re a pretty collaborative bunch in a pretty collaborative business. We all do have days when we work from home to wait for the cable guy or keep an eye on a sick kid, but for the most part, you’ll find us in the office, and I think we’re a stronger team for it. It’s also no fun to go to Happy Hour by yourself. And trust me, you learn stuff at Happy Hour.
Photo Credit: Flickr’s JeremyOK