Last week, Yahoo sent a memo to employees letting them know that they would be expected in the office on a daily basis. In an effort to spur innovation and boost morale, they decided that working from home would no longer be allowed, let alone encouraged. A section of the memo reads, “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.” Taking the other side of the argument, this week, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, challenged fellow billionaire New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg saying that the office will soon become a thing of the past. In response to Bloomberg saying that working from home was "one of the dumber ideas I've ever heard", Branson said that people who work from home have a better work/life balance and still get their jobs done. He added that, "to force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking."
So who's right? It depends.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wants people to interact to spur creativity and encourage collaboration. While we have great tools for working remotely and in different locations like video conferencing and instant messaging, in my opinion, nothing beats the impromptu meeting. It is also more difficult (or impossible) to control the corporate culture if no one is in the office. Yahoo employees have been suffering from poor moral and by controlling the office environment, they are attempting to change the tone of the company.
Google, in their New York office, has seated managers strategically so they have to walk past people they don't manage to get to the restrooms. They do this because they want people from different groups bumping in to each other to (you guessed it) spur innovation and creative thinking. Johnson & Johnson is encouraging their workforce to come back to the office, offering them the ability to work in different J&J offices, as they believe they can drive productivity by controlling the work environment.
However, there's also a backlash regarding open work spaces. According to a recent New York Times article, people are finding the noise associated with working in cubicles distracting as opposed to helpful. They are relying on earphones and noise-cancelling devices to help concentrate. The open environment is clearly a work in progress.
When I work remotely, I am able to be more productive in several ways. Tasks like paperwork, responding to emails, reading leases, writing reports, presentations, proposals, or blog entries all are easier when the phone isn't ringing and no one is walking in to my office for quick meetings. If I had a job that didn't involve working within a team setting and interacting with my peers, I could definitely see wanting to work remotely. That said, with three young children, for me, remotely means an quiet setting outside of my office and my home.
However, if you work remotely, is it easier or harder to work your way up the corporate ladder? I think it would be harder to get noticed and considered for advancement, especially if your peer group was in the office more often.
My mother, who has four children, used to tell me that different children need different things. The same idea applies to the office. As companies gather more data on productivity, the work environment will continue to evolve. It will be more based on the specific employee, their tasks and their interactions. How can we expect people who have completely different jobs to sit in the same type of work station and both work at maximum productivity?
As I said earlier, I think there's merit to both sides of the argument. I predict that activity based workstations and task oriented solutions will become more prevalent. Employees will continue to lose personal space as companies figure out that employees with different tasks need different types of work environments. One thing is for sure, there are plenty of disgruntled Yahoo employees who don't want to work in an office, but I wonder if they would feel differently if they had a vested interest in the success of the company.