Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo (PS I don’t think I’ve been near a Yahoo product in over 5 years – what do they do / make ?), started the home working debate this week when she announced to her employees that the option to “work from home” was being withdrawn. Others jumped on the band wagon including Alexandra Shulman from Vogue UK all ready to pillory the notion of working away from the office.
But let’s back up.
In the case of Yahoo it looks like “working from home” had become a licence to do NOTHING for the employer who paid their salaries and instead work on personal projects. It’s important to put Mayer’s pronouncements on working from home into the context of the systemic issues which have conspired to make Yahoo as relevant to digital needs today as dial-up modems.
Shulman weights her remarks to the more permanent out of the office concept of working from home.
And this is where I have a problem with both ladies and this week’s debate. I’m in full agreement that permanently out-of-office employees, over time, will not make the same dynamic contribution to the office work environment – although some very specific tasks require no coligiate interaction.
The issue is that many senior managers and executives will take these remarks to validate their dated and prejudiced views about employees who occasionally work away from the office. And that’s the other important caveat – working away from the office does not always equate with working from home. Whenever I have chosen to work away from the office I’ve set up camp in another office – free from distraction but still very professional.
It all boils down to creating environments which meet the needs of the work at hand. Most employers have failed to do this. Instead they’ve gone for the battery hen approach which makes it all nigh impossible to focus after 9am and before 4pm – the period of maximum co-worker distraction.
This debate can be taken a step further. I’ve had former colleagues who travel a lot on business and their work output is every bit as good as if they were sitting in the same building. Their presence is felt as they make the effort to stay in touch and keep themselves relevant. I’ve also known people who “fall off the face of the earth” when they travel. Their inbox becoming a black hole never to spit out anything other than an Out Of Office.
In my opinion the real solution is;
(1) Hiring people who can be trusted.
(2) Making people accountable
(3) Training managers to understand that proximity does not equate to productivity.
NB This was written in a SBUX.