Working from Home and The Creation of a World Class Culture

February 27, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not know about the recent flap about remote workers, sparked by Yahoo!’s controversial new work from home policy—or rather, their “don’t work from home” policy. Some of us might view the recent announcement with horror, others might be nodding along in agreement.  Either way I think it has made most of seriously think about our stance on working from home.

What it should REALLY be making us think about are our thoughts on how we manage our corporate culture.

Because that is what is going on here. The leadership of Yahoo!, whether you agree with them or not, is diving right at the heart of the beast, and taking what many see as extraordinary measures to make fundamental and bold changes in how employees interact in their business.

There’s a lot of evidence on both sides of the fence about the pros and cons of allowing workers to telecommute. Most of the cons, interestingly, have to do with the potential for overwork on the part of telecommuters. Certainly some companies have expressed concerns about abuse of the system.

But I didn’t really see these concerns in the memo Yahoo! issued.

Here’s  the passage I noticed in the memo, written by Yahoo!’s EVP of People and Development, Jacqueline Reses, which to me underlines the company’s admirable focus on cultural change as a route to success:

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. 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.

There is certainly more than one way to create a workplace filled with communication and collaboration, speed and quality—and, for myself, I’m not convinced that it always requires being in the same room. There are a host of great collaboration tools that many companies are using to help workers maintain a highly collaborative virtual environment. In fact, we use one enterprise collaboration tool at our company that I can say first hand is far superior to any break room conversation I’ve ever had.

The truth is, while one solution to the collaboration issue might be to bring people together into the same physical space, as Yahoo! is doing…  it is often easier said than done. For example, our company has offices around the world. It’s likely your organization also has people working for it that simply can’t join you in the break room. Some of my own closest collaborators and work friends are located on the West Coast and in the UK. That’s why it is important that the tools we employ to streamline collaboration and communication are tools that can embrace your entire network of employees.

Of course, employee recognition is one surefire way to build up culture in multi-location or multinational firms, where it is impossible for us all to be with one another physically. And it does so in a way that people almost universally can get behind. That’s because it gives you incredible capability to build relationships that transcends time and place—which includes companies with far-flung offices and remote workers. Plus good, strategic recognition also offers you a suite of tools to get insight into just what is happening in your culture–an added bonus for those focused on building and managing culture.

Honestly, I don’t know enough about Yahoo! to say for sure whether this policy is a right or wrong one. But what I can say is that this decision really highlights the priority they have attached to their culture. And whatever else you might say, that deserves some credit.

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