Summary: There has been a lot of discussion and controversy around Yahoo! raising the working-from-home subject in their struggle for a new “one Yahoo!” culture. Surprisingly enough even close allies of mine in the field of social business started re-considering if WFH actually is beneficial for corporate culture and creativity. After digesting my thoughts and perspective on the subject for a while I’ve decided to join the ring. I want to approach the subject from four angels: enablement, leadership, flexibility and globalisation. I believe that the larger picture of “working from home” is important to really judge if a company wants to allow or deny their workforce to adopt styles of “remote work”.
Not everyone is made for working from home. Not every role can be performed out of a home office. That’s how it is. Manufacturing industrial products will never happen in the living room. Expert hands-on mechanical support can hardly be provided through a video chat. If you want to look at it in a very strict way WFH creates a two class society to some extend. Not even all information worker roles can adopt WFH or full flexibility for time & place. However, there is a certain segment in information work that can and should have the opportunity to take advantage from the new opportunities business ICT provides. Simply because it’s beneficial for results, quality and eventually the entire organisation.
If we deny the difference in work types and respective ways of executing it we are denying diversity and should (today!) cancel all the perks of busy top managers as well. Simply get back in line and fly Southwest in economy class…because: you can!
Four Angles on “Working from Home”
1. What WFH models actually enable on a larger scale…
If you ask me, working from home isn’t just about moms or getting people on board for which commuting/re-locating isn’t a valid option. It’s about establishing a way of working that enables people to work whenever and from wherever. This way of working covers all factors:
- technology infrastructure
- people leadership
- performance management
- collaboration culture
- work discipline
It means that establishing a proper model for remote work actually impacts all neuralgic points of an organisation. Mastering remote work means that your foundation for individual and collaborative productivity as well as objective based people management is properly in place. My hypothesis is that a company, which is able to execute the portion of information work of its core business in any constellation – on site or completely distributed – must be a high performing one.
2. Leadership for a distributed workforce
Change in management and work culture are key subjects in all discussions around the future of information work. My two cents: WFH can only work if
- People are led by example and objectives
- It’s crystal clear that everything I decide as a remote worker has immediate impact on others. Absence may not be the cause for disruption. If one’s absence is actually in the way of others – preventing their performance and success – then something is wrong in the system. Creating a sense for that is a management job.
One ‘radical’ view: people that take personal advantage of “not being under direct supervision” have to get fired. Breaking trust and letting others down is the worst information workers can do. So far I haven’t come across many companies that consequently remove laggards from their workforce that not just under perform but actually block others. That is part of management/leadership duty.
3. Flexibility for individuals, teams and networking
Establishing a cultural and technological WFH infrastructure basically means that people are enabled to create value at any time from anywhere. So…even if “working from home” isn’t really the goal people can still choose the environment in which they (individually or collaboratively) can create the most value.
I’ve just recently been forwarded an article in which it was discussed that agencies – or creative teams in general – cannot work from home. People have to work and interact in real time and in person. For that companies introduce perks like free lunch and dinner and whatever else services you can think of. This is meant to keep people from going home and stay with the tribe.
For my taste this is going agains work/life balance. Don’t get me wrong: I am a very big fan of American companies and the way they are able to establish a kind of “brotherhood” (or in a more negative fashion “sect”) feeling. Too many European companies are lacking that kind of drive.
Anyway: I don’t think it’s necessary to lock creative tribe in one room at all times. It’s necessary to establish a certain level of team spirit, a common foundation and dedication(!). If that’s solved creative people need their freedom to BE creative. I cannot remember one excellent idea actually being created in a meeting room. The best stuff was brought back to work from home, the gym or bed. In today’s world people have different and so much better means to collaborate and be creative when they are not sharing a physical room. I believe that the right balance of sharing physical and virtual space is the key to outstanding and extremely quick results.
4. Working in a global economy
Let me keep this one short and crisp: companies and their teams are becoming more and more distributed across the globe. Networks slowly but steadily start taking over from large “all on one” tankers. Talents are required and willing to overcome geographical and cultural distance to learn, contribute and grow.
And we want to lock them in an office?
Oh, come on…