Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Ditch remote work? Go for it Yahoo!

Apparently Yahoo is no longer allowing its employees to work remotely. And as you might imagine, the Internet is in a tizzy. There's quite a bit written saying this is a very bad idea.

I have to humbly disagree with the Internet on this one.

I say, go for it Yahoo!

Here are two reasons for my contrarian attitude:

  1. If companies want to succeed they need to demonstrate innovation. And that's not just innovation in the products they produce, but in their customer service and even HR practices. Is forcing people to show up at the office innovative? For most corporations, no. But for a tech company, I'd say so. Like many innovations, this is either an awful idea or just crazy enough to work.
  2. Yahoo! has its own problems to solve. If they've done their homework and decided that communication is lacking, then forcing people into the office may be just the jolt they need to cause change. Should this be a cue that remote work is dead? Obviously not. Your company's problems may call for extending remote work. Companies have to decide what's best for them, and not just drift from trend to trend.

Two caveats:

1. Had the memo been directed to just one part of the company (programmers, marketing staff, etc.) I'd be on the side of the web. But because it's a universal attempt to bring folks into the office, I think there's something to it.

2. If I was a remote worker and I got this memo, I'd almost certainly be looking for a new job. But that's OK - not every company's culture is a fit for every employee.

Update:

A few more thoughts about this topic:

  • I know nothing about the politics of Yahoo. It's quite possible that this move was as shallow, juvenile and poorly thought out as some suggest. I still stand by the notion that stopping all remote work can promote/represent a strong change in the culture of an organization.
  • One somewhat related policy that this reminds me of is the Topless Meeting approach that we ended up using at my last office job. A topless meeting is one where you aren't allowed to bring in a laptop or other device. We found that this dramatically refocused the meeting and meant that people were both physically and mentally present. At the same time, I've seen just as dramatic results introducing Instant Messaging to teams that weren't using it. All of a sudden, the technology provided a level of communication unheard of. So which is it, is technology bad or good for people and organization? This of course is a silly question. Technology is a tool that should be used or not used to reach a goal.
  • Complaining about lack of Remote Work is a bit like complaining about your organization not giving you a cell phone or laptop. On one level, those can provide a huge degree of flexibility (and act as a status symbol). On the other hand, they provide a level of connectedness that can make it tricky to ever really be away from the office. What a gift it can be to only be able to do work in the office.

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