February 27, 2013 - FILED UNDER Agile Business
Dear Marissa Mayer: It’s Not 1987 (a Case for Working Remotely)
Certain subjects just naturally incite opinion wars. The big ones, like political preferences, or whether you’re Team Gryffindor or Team Slytherin, are better left out of polite conversation. But when it comes to doing your job effectively, where do we draw the line? Should the nature of a person’s autonomy — or lack thereof — be at the whim of the boss, or the discernment of the employee?
The four corners of the Internet nearly came to blows this week when tech-world darling and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer boldly put a stop to employees working remotely. Needless to say, people are pissed.
As our technology matures, so do our options (that’s the whole point, right?) — where we once spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours bringing international team players together, modern collaboration takes little more than an app and the willingness to lose sleep. This isn’t to say that Mayer’s argument is completely invalid — she points out that telecommuting at Yahoo has not only been wildly taken advantage of, but that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.” She emphasizes that spontaneous, face-to-face conversations often lead to brilliant ideas.
The key thing to note here is that, to Mayer, collaboration isn’t fully effective unless it’s done in person. That may be true for Yahoo, but critics say that Mayer is “abandoning a modern, enlightened approach to helping employees juggle conflicting demands,” something they expected the mother of a six-month-old son to understand. For those of us accustomed to flexible autonomy, the biggest fear is whether or not the widely-respected Mayer’s actions will lead to other CEOs reexamining their own telecommuting policies, and what that means for the 20 percent of people worldwide primarily working from home today.
A Risk We’re Willing to Take
“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want a glass of milk,” right? Sure, it’s inevitable that some remote workers will take advantage of their clandestine position, treating it more like free vacation than a time for introspective productivity. But the same is true for people with offices, or even cubicles — unless their managers intend to keep them on lock down. If employees want distraction, they don’t need to break free of office confines; they can find it just as easily via the company server or the rarely-subtle drone of their nearby coworkers. This is particularly true in today’s open office layouts that are built specifically around fostering face-to-face collaboration. Headphones are rarely enough to keep concentration safe from the impromptu meeting invite or chatty neighbor.
Then, there are the statistics. We’ve written before about the 360-degree feedback survey that revealed “people who work remotely are more engaged, more committed to their work, and rate their leaders higher than those who work from the office.” The reasons are both simple and obvious: basically, proximity makes people lazy about connecting, the convenience of email doesn’t disappear just because your boss is five feet away, and teams that have to work harder to engage better capitalize on their time together, even if it’s virtual.
The possibilities available through telecommuting are something the tech world has smartly embraced in a quest for more effective innovation. Exorcise a person’s choice of work style or location, and you severely narrow the pool of brilliance from which you can pull. Mindjet’s own CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, says it best:
“Everyone works differently, and if you should be at home or in a conference room locked away from the noise of the cubes, or somewhere else, we — the royal we — clearly have the technology to make that happen. The message should never be about butts-in-seats rather than accountability for bringing the best ideas to market.”