Filed under: Digital workplace
It’s old news that Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer has come out publicly to tell staff that working from home is no longer allowed.
Her message sent a shockwave through the digital workplace and technology community:
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.
Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.
To a certain extent, many people weren’t surprised. Yahoo! has been very visibly struggling in the marketplace, and seems yet to have found a clear role and direction.
What is unusual, however, is how little coverage there has been about a similar statement from Google, broken by Ben Grubb at the Sydney Morning Herald.
To quote Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette:
“The surprising question we get is: ‘How many people telecommute at Google?’ ” Mr Pichette said at a talk in Sydney on Monday. “And our answer is: ‘As few as possible’.
“It’s somewhat counterintuitive. People think, ‘Well, because you’re at Google you can work from anywhere.’ Yes, you can work from anywhere, but many just commute to offices . . . Working from the office is really important.”
Mr Pichette, who is in Australia to visit Google’s office here and the local start-up community, made the comments to workers at Fishburners, a Sydney “co-working” space shared by technology entrepreneurs.
Mr Pichette said he believed that working from home could isolate employees from other staff.
So the company that’s trying to sell us productivity tools for virtual teams discourages home working amongst it’s own staff? Now that’s interesting!
What does this mean for the digital workplace?
There are many comments and questions that can be raised about these two statements.
These are my observations:
- We shouldn’t take even fundamental ideas for granted. Amongst the digital workplace community it’s often presumed that the shift to new ways of working is an inexorable change. However, Google and Yahoo! have shown that even in technology companies, long-familiar ideas such as telecommuting shouldn’t be taken for granted.
- We shouldn’t be relying on the “leaders” to show the way. The shift to a true digital workplace is a journey that each organisation must make for itself, and these announcements highlight the danger of expecting that all the technology “leaders” are at the front of things.
- Beware knee-jerk reactions. Just because one company is for (or in this case against) an idea, doesn’t mean it’s relevant in the context of other organisations. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the digital workplace.
- Vendors won’t solve these problems for us. If Google isn’t “eating it’s own dogfood” and “living the dream” with its own tools, we clearly shouldn’t be expecting them to hand well-formed solutions to us on a plate. While vendors do have useful insights and technologies, true innovation will occur within organisations.
- It’s vitally important to make the business case for the digital workplace. Too often, teams skip justifying the need for basic changes, moving straight to technology options. If the CEO is opposed to home-working, that’s the first thing to address, before discussing the digital workplace.
- It’s about helping organisations work better. Technology must sit alongside business strategy and organisational culture, to help deliver business outcomes. If what we’re doing has clear business benefits, then who cares what Yahoo! or Google thinks?
We’re living in interesting times. As our week in the digital workplace showed, there’s a compelling vision to strive for, but still quite a journey to get there. We should expect more surprises to come, and therefore continue to focus on delivering solutions piece-by-piece, producing early wins and demonstrating business value.