After a long week of divergent opinions on Marissa Mayer’s decision to revoke the option to work-at-home for Yahoos, I’ve had the chance to connect with colleagues on the fallout of such a decision and the resulting national conversations that have flowed forth. Many agree that it was a shortsighted edict, but one that given the position Mayer is in, may have been necessary if the company is rife with under-performers. To reinforce negative stereotypes, however, and take aim at work-at-home employees, is a pretty big stretch at alluding who your under-performers are.
To come from a company like Google, with the ultimate in office design, one that cultivates innovation and disruption daily, to a flagging company with seeming ‘nomads’ who no one clearly knows if they are productive or not, puts any CEO in a tough position. But the problem in making sweeping corporate statements like this one, is that it overlooks several things, two of which include the following: 1) the need to engage your employees in creating the kind of innovative company you want and treat them as partners by hearing and respecting their voices vs. issuing edicts from above, and 2) unless you have been living under a rock these past few years, mobile work styles are here to stay. Underestimating giant leaps forward organizations have taken in creating flexible workplaces, many of which driven by tech companies themselves, with the proof that employees can be even more productive if given control over their work and life commitments and then to try and draw it backwards usually backfires. You can attempt it, but it rarely works well.
Instead of stating that work at home employees are not creative and innovative enough as they can be face-to-face, is also overlooking the possibility that creativity and innovation can occur spontaneously, on a micro-level, in the unlikeliest of times and places, sometimes face-to-face, sometimes in virtual settings, sometimes alone, and more importantly not just between 9-5. Everyone knows a CEO must make undesirable decisions at times, but in Mayer’s case, if this decision was driven financially, through a need for a reduction in force or a way to bring employees back to the fold, there are better ways to do it by respecting the process of strengthening employee interactions both virtually and face-to-face. The most admired corporate cultures are ones created organically from the inside out, and these are companies that employ distributed leadership and learn how to engage all levels of employees in creating a best place to work.
I am currently writing a book with three co-authors that will be published in 2014. What we collectively know from having worked with clients, and in discussions about best practices, is that some of the best companies are approaching the agile workplace from a dual angle. They embrace flexible work, either formally or informally, with systems in place to educate and manage a distributed workforce, and have demonstrated the business case and benefits of it. They also revisit office space configuration and are embracing new designs that encourage employees to come together, face-to-face and virtually, to foster creativity and innovation for global collaboration at any time. If managed and executed well, both approaches can co-exist and neither are mutually exclusive.