Live where you work or work where you live?

photo by Shaun Battick

photo by Shaun Battick

The topic of telecommuting has been cropping up a lot lately, and it’s not just Marissa Mayer’s new dictum about face time at Yahoo.  A number of participants in our recent presentations on managing change have found this to be an important issue in their companies.

So I was interested to read Jennifer Glass’s op-ed in the New York Times this week. She makes an excellent case for why working from home is a good idea.

Yet a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation. Two outdated ideas seem to underlie the Yahoo decision: first, that tech companies can still operate like the small groups of 20-something engineers that founded them; and second, the most old-fashioned of all, that companies get the most out of their employees by limiting their autonomy.

Glass is skeptical about recent claims that casual work encounters are a sizable source of innovation.  (It’s the reason why all the bathrooms at Apple headquarters on are on the main floor.)  She says:

The notion that impromptu conversations with colleagues in the cafeteria are the core of innovation seems a bit simplistic; in my experience, they are just as likely to produce talk of better jobs at competing firms or last night’s “American Idol” winner. Besides, much of this “research” simply shows that workers who collaborate with others in loose networks generate better ideas. It doesn’t suggest that the best way to create new products and services is by isolating your employees in the silo of a single location.

Read the whole piece, if you’re interested in this topic at all.  I think Glass makes a great case for using technology to create a more productive and more humane work system.


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