Allowing staff to work from home, now known as ‘telework’, offers a lot of perks for companies.
For one, it saves on desks and some of the costs of running an office. It makes companies more attractive to parents and others who want to work flexibly. And it allows companies to hire the most talented staff, no matter how far they reside from head office. For all these reasons, companies that allow their staff the option of telework typically get a good run in the press, where they’re lauded for their “enlightened” attitude.
But some of the world’s most successful companies are shunning telework, saying it kills the innovation and creativity they need to keep leading the market.
Yahoo, headed by ex-Google exec Marissa Mayers, is the most recent example.
Early this week its HR department issued an internal memo, duly leaked, telling staff that from June they’ll no longer be able to work from home.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” it read. “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 being physically together.”
Yahoo isn’t the only company to take this attitude towards telework. Mayer’s old company, Google, takes a similar view.
Its CFO, Patrick Pichette, was in Sydney last week. He told an audience of entrepreneurs that at Google, the policy was to allow as little telework as possible. The irony of this, coming from a company that prides itself on allowing people to connect electronically, was noted by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Ben Grubb, who reported on the talk.
“Working from the office is really important,” Pichette said. “There is something magical about sharing meals. There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking, at the computer, ‘What do you think of this’?”
LeadingCompany found support for this idea. Yvette Blount, the research co-ordinator at the Australia Anywhere Working Research Network and a lecturer at Macquarie University, is one of Australia’s leading experts on telework. She says there’s research to support the view that innovation gets a boost when people are in the same room, working together.
Nonetheless, she says the Yahoo edict is overkill.
“A lot of people in Yahoo wouldn’t be in creative jobs. For example, those in accounts, customer service, human resource management – all those support roles – I’m really not sure why they need to be in the office.”