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Work-from-home or work-from-work? Is Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, promoting innovation?


Last week, Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, barred employees from working from home, since it considered employees to be slacking off. That decision fired up numerous discussions in the blogosphere. There is a lot to consider in this debate. The idea that working from home allows an employee to have a "paid" family life is on the verge of redefining the meaning of working from home. It seems to me that this is a step backwards in work organization when it comes to creativity and innovation.

She explained to them that “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.

The reality of the work "at work" - and cafeteria discussions - may be different than what Marissa Meyer assumes. When at work, time to discuss and elaborate is always taken out of time meant for delivering, coding, and developing. As a result, however "open" the management is, the cultural legacy leads coffee break room discussions to end sooner than expected.

Try an experiment: Find some of your employees having a discussion over coffee. Come up to them, and do not say anything. Just have a coffee yourself. Their discussion will end, as they know they have something to deliver. Management presence always "reminds" employees of pending deliveries. When they decide to stand up and go back to their work, try saying, "Hey, it's ok, you can stay and discuss here, no problem,”… too late…

Google’s organization is probably more effective; employees can take 20% of their work time to work on projects they are personally passionate about. That may incite a lot more discussions with colleagues, as they are free to use this time the way they want, without having to be concerned about a delivery schedule.

Working from home (not like I'm doing at the moment: working on Saturday, from home of course), allows people to delve deeper into their ideas, but will exchange only if a suitable company social media is available that allows real eFace-to-eFace discussion. Such a "conversational" social media will encourage conversations that may be read by anyone, may also allow introverts to participate equally, and trigger mirror neurons in the same way a conversation does, by focusing on ideas and purpose (read "Innovators Are Conversation Architects"). I think that Marissa Mayer is right to insist that time at work is important, and that face-to-face conversation is a must for creativity. However, I would also suggest that expressing opinions, deepening a concept, and working alone, without time pressure from colleagues or management, is a must as well.

A balance must be found between work to be delivered, interaction with colleagues, and working from home without pressure.

Ideally, once a week, a worker would take advantage of being away from the workplace to participate in an online conversation with the objective of deepening ideas, freed from delivering to management as well as from inevitable colleagues’ influences. The rest of the time, it has to be clearly stated that coffee break discussions are allowed, and work/rest space around the coffee corner should be organized as a meeting room, able to accommodate several groups of people.

Placing the human brain in different situations, at different locations, with different levels of pressure, on different timeframes is key for creativity and innovation. Work from home should then be considered, among other approaches. Being purely for or against it is not productive.
Apparently, management-by-objectives still needs some support.



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Opened by Antoine Fournier, Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance
Mar 5, 2013.



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Shane Granger Analyst
Mar 5, 2013

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Antoine,

Although you are right to point out that Google does allow staff to actively pursue personal projects approx 1-day per week they also spend a lot of time and money turning work into home (kitchens, laundry, entertainment and so on). It should also be noted that Marissa came from Google prior to taking on the role with Yahoo so she knows the benefits and the liabilities of such a decision.

My understanding of the decision is that Yahoo made this decision to reinvigorate its corporate culture, effectively to get people talking again. Although never officially stated I would guess there is also a large amount of non-productivity and the management team probably wanted to investigate this in depth.

Over the past decade there has been an increasing clamour to integrate work-life flexibility into workplaces. I think what we are seeing with Yahoo is a bell-weather company in the West and a drawback from this practice, due in part to atrophied economies (and profits), reduced workforces (thus a requirement for more productivity) and a strengthening of employers (over employee's) power dynamic. Although Yahoo are in the news for the ban, I think you will find a lot of companies were limiting the practice as much as possible outside of select staff.

I recently conducted a Workforce Analytics workshop in Kuala Lumpur where my organiser travelled 3-hours each way and worked an eight hour day. I was reminded of this when Nial Ferguson recently stated (via his China documentary series) that the more powerful China comes, the more the West will need to work as hard as the Chinese.

Although remote working is in no ways dead, Yahoo are just reflecting a potential new normal.
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Nadine Hack CEO, beCause Global Consulting
Mar 6, 2013

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Antoine - I definitely understand the value of face-to-face interactions: in fact, two decades ago I negotiated a deal to keep UNDP and UNICEF in NYC when they were being lured to Bonn on extremely lucrative terms and my central winning point was that nothing beat the ability to have a tete-a-tete with the Secretary-General by simply crossing the street!

Yet, in our current socially-connected environment, I have learned as much - if not more - about how to more effectively run and promote my business from people with whom I collaborate on various social platforms and have never "met" except through my interactions with them on Facebook or Twitter.

As Marissa Meyer is from a younger generation than I am, she must know these benefits and so I assume there was a serious culture issue of dis-engagement that she wanted to address at Yahoo that led her to make this seemingly counter-intuitive decision given her background. But, I believe that finding the right balance between being together in real or virtual time will be an under-pinning for success of more companies globally,

- Nadine B Hack, CEO, beCause Global Consulting (http://www.beCause.net) and Executive-in-Residence Emerita, IMD Business School
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Antoine Fournier 67 Antoine Fournier Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance

Mar 6, 2013
Hi Nadine,

My question was a bit provocative - Thank you for your measured and appropriate response.
You're right that face 2 face meetings are a must and you know that this is of importance to me (my previous posts).
My statement is that we should never have to choose between traditional or "web 2.0" human interaction mode. I'll not make the common mistake to consider that an innovation has to "replace" something old or obsolete. As far as human beings are concern, there is no "replacement", but "addition".

A mix of face2face and off-site interactions will place, more than ever, conversation as a innovation enabler : human beings are pretty much influenced by the environment, the conditions, the media when interacting with each others, because it is 5-senses interactions. Placing employees in a single work area (even comfortable) does not help.

Most people always look for usual and unsurprising life conditions and do not like changes, but creative fellows are constantly looking for changes in their life.
Management should rather think about breaking the "5-days-a-week" paradigm.

Nadine Hack 12 Nadine Hack CEO, beCause Global Consulting

Mar 11, 2013

Dear Antoine - I totally agree with you that "we should never have to choose between traditional or "web 2.0" human interaction mode." Both are vital.
Best, - Nadine


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Michael Rausch Automotive consultant, ConceptO+
Mar 5, 2013

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Hello Antoine,

I have to agree with this article. However it is important to develop and appeal to the sense of duty and responsability.

Many years ago, when I first started with home office work, it was a rather difficult change. The timetable is different, the pressure you can experience is different... I used my strong sense of responsability to adapt (but this is not for everyone, I can imagine people who don't care and will use home office in a selfish way). You need to know the people you are working with, your team, what kind of people they are.

In my opinion, home office people just need to get the job done. Sometime I work late or on weekends and sometimes I finish early... It is a freedom that must be used wisely.

Aslong as you perform and results are there, deadlines are met, I don't see the issue. Therefore, management should let it be (You are being productive and effective). However, it is more then normal if management comes to see abuse, they revoke this freedom. This happend to colleagues I knew before.

On the other hand I also agree that meeting the colleagues/management on a regular basis is needed (follow-up meetings, face-to-face time to discuss problems or stops that you might encounter, or to talk about objectives and changes). However I wonder how tools like Skype could play a role in this?

Best Regards
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Rahul Patwardhan Senior Management Professional in Global IT Services Industry
May 24, 2013

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Prescriptive management in todays world is an antequated practice. Its surprising that Marissa Meyer, a young lady, of a new world company like Yahoo, has sought to adopt Theory X management by directive methods!

In the white collar world of Knowledge Industries, flexibility is the key to driving maximum productivity. One person works best in a noisy office in the company of friends, another works best in privacy with as little disturbance as possible. Hence we need to drive outcome and results and not prescribe day to day hour to hour work methods.

Yes, Marissa is right that there does need to be some amount of face time between employees, so that their relationships are not entirely virtual. But this can be acheived in many ways - that do not involve forcing every one of them to be in office every day for the full day!

In a similar way, I also don't agree with the approach of Atos's CEO who has banned email in his company! This is another case of extreme policy perhaps trying to be too modern/futuristic. Again, some people work well using more email, some less. When you start prescribing HOW people should do their work, we are beginning to get into implementation of Modern Times in the office/knowledge work setting. This will stifle creativity and personal differences in ways of working.

In both cases, what I'd suggest would be more productive would be to stipulate productivity/output metrics and expectations clearly - so that no one can escape producing work by sitting at home OR escape results from work by producing tonnes of email correspondence.

As long as people deliver the output we expect from them - and follow certain minimum standards that are required to keep staff on the same page - we should desist from getting too prescriptive.

Do we tell a great chef not only what food we want but also how to go about cooking the dish? If we expect the output, we need to get out of the way when it comes to the means.....

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Rahul Patwardhan 04 Rahul Patwardhan Senior Management Professional in Global IT Services Industry

May 24, 2013

As an afterthought - Marissa seems to be trying to solve a problem with the wrong solution.

If she truly has a situation where people in Yahoo in general are slacking off under the pretext of home-working, the issue is actually that Yahoo does not have a culture of setting very concrete personal objectives and KRA's for each staff member and a strong measurement culture around results. Thats where she should focus. Just by bringing everyone into the office, she will not solve this problem.


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