James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

View more articles from James Thomson

Speed and quality ‘sacrificed’ when employees work from home, says Yahoo HR chief

Published 26 February 2013 08:30, Updated 27 February 2013 09:19

+font -font print
Speed and quality ‘sacrificed’ when employees work from home, says Yahoo HR chief

Speed and quality are often sacrificed when people work from home, says Yahoo executive vice president Jackie Reses. Photo: Yahoo

What seems to have surprised most people about Yahoo’s “no working from home” edict isn’t the message but the company that it has come from.

Don’t companies such as this regularly feature in global lists of the best companies to work for, a fact often attributed to their flexible attitude to work both inside and outside the office?

Well, not quite.

Silicon Valley giants such as Google are famous for providing food, health facilities like gyms and even beds on-site. But their attitudes towards working from home are not as you might imagine.

Yahoo is under fire after global HR chief Jackie Reses sent a memo telling workers that it was “critical” that they were in their offices and not working from home.

“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.”

But five days earlier, Google chief financial officer Patrick Pichette told an audience in Sydney something very similar.

“The surprising question we get is: ‘How many people telecommute at Google?’ And our answer is: ‘As few as possible’.

“It’s somewhat counterintuitive. People think, ‘Well, because you’re at Google you can work from anywhere.’ Yes, you can work from anywhere, but many just commute to offices . . . Working from the office is really important.”

Yahoo and Google make good points. Any manager who has staff working from home knows the frustration of trying to get a quick question answered by a home-based worker and being forced to wait for half an hour for something that would have been done in minutes in the office. Or the agony of time lost trying to locate everyone on a phone conference. Do they ever start on time?

I think it’s very hard to argue with the idea that collaboration – both structured and the in-the-kitchen random collaboration – is extremely difficult when you have home workers.

As Pichette says, “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?’”

Employers also need to recognise that employees – particularly the best ones – have very different expectations about where and how they work.

But employers also need to recognise that employees – particularly the best ones – have very different expectations about where and how they work. They may have family or health or lifestyle reasons for wanting to work from home, or not come into the office (a fine distinction but an important one).

In the battle for talent, being able to offer work-from-home arrangements could mean more to a star worker than money or other perks.

It might be that we start to see a divide between industries or even specific jobs. If you are involved in anything where collaboration is a key part of your job, employers may decide you need to be in the office for the majority of your time. If your job is more process based, then working from home is a valid option.

Or maybe not. Perhaps companies like Google and Yahoo are highlighting a swing back to an old way of working.

Whatever the case, I very much doubt a one-size-fits-all approach will work. Companies need to be flexible in their approach a find a happy medium in an environment where talent is so mobile.

Topics:

Comments