Marissa Mayer's decision to abolish Yahoo's work-at-home policy has grabbed a lot of headlines in the 48 hours since its publication. The decision, clearly a newsmaker because of the scale and clout of Yahoo's operations, has also roused a debate on the importance of workplace collaboration versus worker productivity.
As someone in charge of such decisions in my own workplace, I agree with Mayer. Why? Because this debate is not about individual productivity; it is about company productivity. There is little room for argument that in today's world an employee can be productive from virtually anywhere and at any time, but a company is not merely the sum of its parts. And collaboration is key to fostering innovation.
Words of my staff echo these sentiments. One developer mentioned that though the term 'knowledge transfer' may seem generic, in his eyes it's the single biggest benefit of coming into the office versus doing development work at home. Another mentioned that though it's possible to ask your colleagues questions via Skype or email, it's easy to lose the collaboration (stemming even from 'water-cooler' discussions) that comes from getting people in a room together.
Mayer, as quoted in her internal memo published on All Things D, a blog on digital issues, advocates that "... To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side." At my company (Cyrus Innovation, an Agile software consulting firm), we have managed to create such an environment, with a number of flexible working options embedded around our core working hours of 10am to 4pm. For the past decade this arrangement has been the status quo, and it will not change going forward - regardless of how many statistics indicate that individual productivity is increased away from the office setting.
The key to our success has been in the flexible working options that empower employees. Here are a few examples:
- We grant our staff unlimited sick leave. If an employee does not feel well, he or she stays at home. This simple rule creates a culture of openness, trust and liberty; productivity and morale have resounded incredibly well as a result.
- We have a generous professional development policy. Each quarter, employees are allowed (and encouraged) to use up to 40 hours of company time on learning initiatives, continuing education courses or even time-outs to stay at home to read.
- We provide flexible working hours. Outside of the core 10am to 4pm work schedule, employees can flex their arrival times to make the day work with their schedule.
In sum, while we champion co-location in the names of innovation and company productivity, we realize that this requirement does not have to go hand-in-hand with rigid working hours and conditions. Flexible options help boost individual productivity and boost morale which, at the end of the day, are enormously important to our business, too.