No more work-from-home: Is Yahoo!’s policy wrong?

No more work-from-home: Is Yahoo!’s policy wrong?

Thursday February 28, 2013,

4 min Read

image credit_blogs.nature.com

For a change, Yahoo! is making news.

A recent policy announcement by Yahoo! rescinding work-from-home employee privileges has lit up the internet opinion factory.

Anti-employee, anti-work-life-balance, anti-family sentiments seem to be the judgment. You would think it is employee abuse to ask them to get to office.

To be fair, you can question the premise of the decision.

More people than ever are working out of home now. Corporate networks allow far greater connectivity using VPNs. People have Skype to video-call (or equivalent corporate tools), can take conference calls from home, do not have to waste time traveling to office, and can generally have a better work-life balance. And possibly best of all: no time-wasting meetings!

Why get to office when you seem to be as, or maybe more, productive at home?

Yahoo! has clarified that the decision was to ensure greater collaboration amongst its employees which only physical proximity can ensure.

Whether that works out or not, there are many benefits of having employees work from office, especially in a product company, many of which I have experienced first-hand. Some are:

Ideas flow when people interact

Think of when you had your best idea. What happened next?

Was your first instinct to create the best powerpoint ever to get your boss to see its potential?

Of course not!

You probably grabbed a colleague or your boss, sketched it out on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard, and built on it. Got a lot of feedback on the idea and then made your super-awesome powerpoint to convince your strategy VP (we can’t really get away from that, can we?)

Point is: most good ideas are promiscuous.

You need people to discuss, maybe even thrash the idea before it gets to a shape where it can be a world-changer. Ideas do not develop without the fertilization of other people’s thoughts and opinions.

Not having someone around to discuss ideas limits how many good ideas get implemented. And that affects the company’s bottomline.

More emails, less work

Anyone who has worked with a cross-site team knows that the process involves a huge amount of documentation and clarifications over calls and emails to get work going.

Things that can be easily sorted over a quick face-to-face chat take forever, and the project work is slower.

Not having people around leads to a deluge of emails that everyone has to spend time clearing.

Many precious man-hours are wasted on conference calls clarifying emails, or worse, on live meetings where you wait endlessly for the presenter to move on with the slide.

Everyone feels busier, but the outcome is sub-optimal.

There’s a reason people travel to meet colleagues or customers in other countries: effectiveness. Face to face meetings often get things done and sealed.

It’s an irony that many don’t want to travel to office for the same.

Conference calls crucify opinion

In any product development process, passions run high.

In a typical high-performance team, there are strong opinions of what’s right and what’s not.

They may seem irksome when you’re struggling to get your vision of the product across, but supporting and even contrary opinions keep everyone’s adrenaline flowing.

It’s tough to take that passion and transmit it over a conference call.

Say you disagree with a colleague on something. In a real meeting, you could counter his viewpoint vociferously and argue your case. Another colleague butts in to support you and there’s a full-fledged discussion on.

How easy is that on conference calls?

Most often, when you disagree with a point of view, you find that someone else gets into Arnab Goswami mode, monopolizes the conversation and refuses to let others speak.

Or worse, sounds like a politician’s prepared speech – its monotony intense enough to make you wonder if its even worthwhile objecting to the premise.

At the end, someone will probably say – hey, I need to drop off the call now, can we have a follow up?

And the cycle repeats.

But work progresses when decisions get made. Don’t you think it’s easier in a meeting than on a call?

So was Yahoo! right?

You may disagree, but I think Yahoo! was right with its policy change.

It’s more efficient to have work-from-home as an exception than the norm. People who truly need it can ask for special permissions.

By asking people to get to office, Yahoo! management would feel that the benefits outweigh the downsides, and they can effect the comeback strategy that they wish for.

After all, work-from-home is a privilege, not an employee right.

What do you think?

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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