The proclamation by Marissa Mayer last month, informing Yahoo employees that working from home is no longer an option, really seemed to bring an important conversation front and center. The memo that started this firestorm stated in part -
"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... We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together."
I've worn a lot of hats over the years. In each instance, there has been a common goal: Be as successful as possible. Being "successful" is unique to every situation so that's why I include "as possible". But when you add happiness to the equation, what does that mean?
If you are in a job where you are rapidly iterating a product and continuously collaborating with others on your team, being face-to-face or side-by-side with your teammates will provide an opportunity to be as successful as possible. Being collocated is no guarantee for success but being distributed (dislocated) is going to certainly limit your chances. Leaders should focus actions more on making their companies, projects, or products successful and less on trying to make employees or teammates happy.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't be empathetic to the needs of others. I'm just saying there comes a point when you need to look at the costs and the benefits of remote work. If the team is not realizing its potential, because one or more of them are working remotely (because they want to and not because they have to) we have a misalignment of goals. Why would they sacrifice potential success for their personal comfort? Well, businesses are trying to find ways to incentivize their employees. They hope that by incentivizing then, they will be happier and more productive. But see, that is part of the problem. There is a belief that the incentives will make them happy. Happiness is one of the byproducts of satisfying work, which can be derived from feelings of mastery, autonomy, and purpose (link to talk by Dan Pink). I believe (in some cases) the work-from-home incentives will have a negative affect.
When companies hire us, they are NOT hiring us to make people's lives better. They are hiring us because there is value locked up in these companies and they are unable to produce. They are hiring us to help them unlock that value. Period.
What's one of the first things I would propose if I coached teams at Yahoo? Bring the team together, face-to-face or side-by-side. The only thing I disagree with in the Yahoo memo experpt is where it states "…we are all present in our offices…" I propose they get out of the private offices and into a team space.
Balanced piece about the pros and cons of working at home on Fast Company
Image Credit: Pictofigo