Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is the Work-from-Home Boom About to Bust?

Headlines all over the business community have been dominated by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s announcement that, starting June 1, employees will no longer be allowed to work remotely. Any employees who fail to show up to work in person at Yahoo! headquarters will be fired.

The announcement sent shockwaves through the tech world, a community which was built on telecommuting and is one of the few sectors still actively encouraging it. Beyond the initial division of support/anger, there was an overarching sense that whatever the outcome of Mayer’s decision, her new rule is perhaps an indicator that the working-from-home boom is about to bust.

Mayer’s reasons were clear in the leaked memo, stating,

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.

Her words are sobering, particularly in light of the recent scandal involving a high-level developer outsourcing his work to China. The man, who worked mostly from home, made a six-figure salary and paid the Chinese firm a fraction of that to do his work for him. With all that downtime, he did what anyone with so much money and free time would do: surf Reddit and watch cat videos (seriously, that’s what he did).

Simply put, it’s hard to keep track of what work is being done by who and at what quality level when so many workers are scattered all over the place. And research has shown that executives and CEOs still spend about 80% of their time in face-to-face meetings, because it’s much easier to communicate and get a sense for what’s going on that through email exchanges. Companies cannot survive on email alone, because it’s the personal interactions, the unanticipated run-ins, and the day-to-day chatter that provides an environment ripe for innovation, collaboration, and ingenuity.

Yahoo! has been clear that they are not forecasting a coworking space renaissance in the tech community, but rather making a move that is necessary for them to move forward as a company. Being a CEO is about leveraging and directing current needs for future growth, and Mayer’s decision certainly has an eye on both.

At bizperc, we see the importance of coworking. Great things happen when entrepreneurs share space to collaborate, tinker and communicate together. Mayer’s decision is a bold one, and while the ramifications remain to be seen, odds are the tech, entrepreneur and startup community will be watching closely to see what happens next.

Note: the author wrote this article from home. He didn't get on Reddit once.


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