Home or office?
Virtual or physical?
Face-to-face or hand in hand...
Mobile vs. static?
Productivity vs. productivity vs. savings vs. investment vs. lifestyle vs. innovation and all vs. some inbred sense of entitlement that seems to have infused some in the workforce.
As you have no doubt guessed, my subject is Yahoo! and Marissa Mayer's recent decision to make her company a physical real-world presence, once again, as she continues to make the hard decisions that just might bring Yahoo! back to its rightful place in the digital world.
It all began with a leaked memo:
"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be 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."
In case it wasn't clear, I have now morphed from being a passive well-wisher for her success to being a full-on fan rooting for her victory.
However, clearly not everyone agrees.
The debate has begun -- and so has the attempted poaching -- or more accurately the PR latching on... Marc Garrett, CEO of Intridea, a software developer, has achieved press status with a tweet, "Hey #Yahoos: if you're being forced to quit come work with us @intridea. We all work from home." And Hitlab USA, a start-up, went to Craigslist with a listing titled "Yahoo Telecommuters Welcome."
No doubt Ms. Mayer's decision begun with a simple comparative analysis of the productivity of the average Yahoo! worker vs. the competitive set.
Let's see -- Apple's employees produce six and a half times more revenue per employee; Facebook three times more and Google weighs in at twice the revenue -- there is another story here...
Then no doubt she looked at best-in-class companies...
- Zappos, where everyone leaves by the same front door, has eliminated most telecommuting. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, in a speech at DLD in Munich spoke about allowing for "collisions" -- their term for serendipitous meetings and mashing -- a necessary component for innovation in their culture.
- Pixar has centralized bathrooms -- because Steve Jobs wanted to increase random interaction as he believed in its positive economic effect... HMMM Paris might have been on to something big with the Pissoiors...
- GSK has tracked as much as a 45 percent increase in decision-making when people sit together in open offices
- Google has long been a believer in discovery, collaboration and fun -- all aspects of people hanging... as the expression goes.
And returning to the late Steve Jobs, he was quoted in a 2010 press conference praising/bragging about the long hours his people worked in Cupertino but didn't mention home... "I've seen cars in the parking lot late at night, cots in some of the engineering offices..."
And on and on.
Obviously there is plenty of research to prove that working at home is productive -- more productive -- is creative--more creative -- is efficient -- more efficient, etc.
Frankly I don't want to enter that debate -- to be honest I believe there is merit; I firmly support flexible work space; I am convinced that sometimes you just need the headspace to get a particular task done.
I also know that many/most of us add work hours at home and at restaurants and family events and weddings and in the bathroom (shout out for SJ...), but, as I pointed out, those are in addition to whatever long hours you are working in the office.
What I do want to tackle is the knee-jerk, babble-ridden way the Yahoo! decision was criticized--and point out to you a great piece by Sarah McBride of Reuters that suggested that best in class in Silicon Valley -- free meals, great amenities and the like -- are not about altruism or socialism but rather are designed to keep workers in place and engaged in work-related discussion -- capitalism at its benign best. According to Reuters, the noise came from elsewhere -- and by the way it's the old guard -- the HPs and Ciscos who have more liberal telecommuting policies than the start-ups or the successful new guard.
One of the comments I least agreed with -- the one that showed a complete lack of digital understanding and human insight -- was the story of the "painful irony" in a company that touts mobile strategy limiting the telecommuting possibilities of its employees.
If anything, telecommuting is a throwback to old... pre-mobile culture when we were in serious danger of becoming an isolated world of single cave hermits -- linked by technology but tethered to our terminals.
Mobile did change all of that -- for sure -- it brought us back to the streets, to restaurants, to stores, to movies, to lectures, to events -- to places where we interacted--where the power of Digital Exponential became clear--where we began to be human again....
Mobile liberates the collaborative workforce to sit together in impromptu groups, at meals, in the park, on a balcony, around a table or just sitting on a staircase.
Do not confuse mobile with telecommuting--you denigrate its power, misunderstand its potential and ultimately limit its true cultural impact.
I like working at home on occasion--I always write my ramble from home (or on the road like now) because I find the solitude of an early morning keeps me focused for this task but nothing--nothing--replaces the rush, the synapse firing, the sheer joy of being in the office and seeing and talking and joking and crying and arguing and listening and working with my colleagues--NOTHING.
So while I do believe that there is merit in working from home and cannot dispute the data presented--for the long-term prognosis I turn to the master of evolution and natural selection...listen:
"In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." Charles Darwin
My bet is with Marissa Mayer...
She has been pegged as antifeminist; anti-workforce; anti-digital; anti-innovative; anti-mobile...
Time to wake up.
None of the above are even close to the issue.
It's time we get back to business and stop the digi-babble.
What do you think?
Follow David Sable on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DavidSable