Ever since Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! issued her memo calling back remote workers into the office and effectively ending telecommuting within the organization, countless stories and commentaries have been written. These responses have spanned from total disagreement to downright endorsement of the new employment practice.
The interesting thing about the announcement is that it appears to have started to influence other organizations to act the same. Just this week, Best Buy announced that they too would be ending their work from home program. This is particularly noteworthy because Best Buy’s initiative (announced in 2006 and called the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)) was seen as a trendsetting program and applauded by many HR advocates.
In the case of Best Buy, the change in policy is not as stringent. Managers still have discretion to allow telecommuting but the employees can no longer make that decision. The question now is two-fold: will more companies follow suit and is this the right decision for a company to make?
Mayer noted, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”
To really understand if this is the “right” decision; let’s take a look at the different types of collaboration that occurs within an organization on a daily basis:
This method of collaboration occurs when team members run into each other in the hallway and strike up a conversation or perhaps in the cafeteria grabbing a cup of coffee. There is nothing formal about it and it can happen in an instant.
With deliberate collaboration, teams may schedule a time for everyone to get into a conference room and hash out an important idea or project. This might be accompanied by white boarding or some other form of facilitated brainstorming.
Formal collaboration involves a scheduled meeting with a formal presentation structure. This could be a business review or strategy overview. The major difference between deliberate collaboration and formal collaboration is the presence of a formalized agenda with specific content to be presented.
When reviewing the three collaboration types noted above, what do you lose when your workforce is remote? Spontaneous collaboration is the victim here, at least to an extent. When workers are remote, they are not running into each other randomly and striking up conversations.
All is not lost, however, as many organizations who have implemented collaboration technologies, such as video conferencing, have installed “water cooler” systems that allow remote employees to connect in at will and see what’s going on. While this may not be as spontaneous as being there, it gets remote workers pretty close.
When looking at deliberate and formal collaboration, much of what occurs in these meetings can be recreated with remote workers. Formal collaboration sessions can easily connect in remote team members to view the formal presentation or even present themselves. Technology now makes it possible to easily present, no matter where you are. With deliberate collaboration, remote participants can view white boarding sessions and be involved in the brain storming process. Again this is possible thanks to the latest developments in cloud and collaboration technologies.
Whether the Yahoo! decision was the right call remains to be seen, but other organizations should examine the different types of collaboration that occur within their facilities and see what is most pervasive. Ultimately, it may be about both a technology solution and a people solution.