Listen to Marissa Mayer | technology and workplace practices have not been properly thought through
A lot has been said on mainstream media about Mayers decision at Yahoo to eliminate working from home as a regular term of employment. The standard media line goes something like ‘Yahoo does not get it’ and ‘this is counter directional to the direction technology companys are supposed to be going’.
Even Richard Branson chipped in saying he would never work from an office.
The two themes that leap out are:
- technology produces the capability to work from home, and
- working from home is empowering by allowing employees to operate on their schedule, banishing commuting, and commitment to the schedules of others
I think Mayer has it right. As compelling as the two points in favour of working from home are, they fail to account for the synergy that arises from working together. They also fail to consider the unintended consequences of losing workplace synergy and creativity.
That’s not to say that some jobs that are individualist in nature may not be better working remotely.
Arwa Damon the Senior International correspondent who I was watching on CNN tonight spends a lot of time away from the office, but even she is not working alone, with camera and other people along with her.
And the Branson example is laughable. Does he honestly think the Virgin investment banking crew in New York for example would really create better decisions if they operated apart all the time?
1. Technology provide the capability to work from home
Something the media have missed is that the technology has created a world where work occurs during normal work hours then continues in the evening just because it can. This is far more disruptive to family life, than working from home capability is good for it.
What work needs is some rules that provides for home/ work balance but still provides the synergy from a properly functional office environment. Technology has provides a quite dysfunctional, environment for most information workers, and they feel guilty if they don’t verify that last email before a late bedtime.
Sensible rules would provide for smart integration of the work tools that we have gradually integrated into our work life over the last 18 ~ years without due thought to how to properly do that. From the first laptops in the early 90’s, internet access, Blackberrys in late 90’s and now smart phones the evolution has been (quite) long and gradual.
This means that some adopted quickly, others more slowly, and more others were born into it in the middle of all this mayhem. Then layer on the adoption of social tools (Facebook etc), information management tools (Evernote etc) and cloud tools (Dropbox, Google Drive etc), and we have enormous sophistication that has evolved from employees emailing work to their personal web mail 10 years ago to literally hundreds of other ways to permit that last minute change to the powerpoint presentation.
All this to say we there are limits to efficiency, effectiveness and value of work. More is not necessarily better, and technology has provided more for most office workers in large corporates but not necessarily better.
2. Working from home is empowering by allowing employees to operate on their schedule
You wake up early, put on the coffee, and check your email. Maybe there are school kids, errands, back to email but you are in charge of the schedule. Perfection.
Meantime the others working from home are working to their schedule. Each working to their own perfection.
The corporate opposite sees everyone in to work at the same time, and the first meeting at 10am after everyone has the same preparation time having arrived at 8:30am.
I recognise this is overly simplistic, and the dramatic differences weigh heavily towards either corporate or personal priority.
The Yahoo model allowed for people to work from home all or most of the time so Yahoo was heavily weighted towards the personal balance and therefore heavily away from the corporate balance.
Its no wonder Mayer made the change. for similar reasons Google has reduced the 10% personal work time.
Relevance to Bankwatch:
All this goes to tell us that workplaces have integrated technology as a tool with zero education or intelligence about how we manage that integration. Many smaller company’s have this right but not large ones. They just did it because they could, it was cool, and they (rightly) felt they were being left behind.
But large corporations and Banks have have absorbed the technology and new home work practices by assuming the standard stated benefits without thinking it through. In fact I would argue this explains why large corporations and banks have been so slow to absorb new tools because they know they have not thought it through, and are therefore scared of the implications to brand, information control, and worker efficiency.
Today we are probably in an evolutionary stage of technology integration rather than the revolutionary stages of the last few years. Its time for all large corporations and Banks to step back and consider what is their right balance of technology tools and work practices.
Listen to Marissa Mayer.
Yahoo Memo (courtesy of allthingsd.com)
YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD
Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.
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.
Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.