Thursday, February 28, 2013

Working nine to five ...

Cubicle Farm by brianhendrix, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by brianhendrix

For many years we've seen articles about hi-tech companies creating stimulating creative workplaces as well as encouraging employees to work in coffee shops or at home. Greater freedom and flexibility fosters greater creativity and responsibility, or so the story goes. However when the going gets tough the flexibility tends to disappear and companies revert to the controlled and familiar workplace of the 20th century. Deep down organisations are not really comfortable with independent home- or road-working employees and there's a strong belief that everyone should be in the office when they're working.

According to an article on CNN, CEO right: Yahoo workers must show up, Yahoo's new CEO, Marissa Mayer, wants employees back in the office instead of working from home or on the road. Things are indeed extremely tough for Yahoo and she believes that it's time to get everyone back in the building and in their cubicles from nine to five to be able to focus on getting back on track. The article claims that despite advances in videoconferencing and social media top management still spend about 80% of their time in face-to-face meetings. I would suggest that top management are often the last people to embrace new means of communication such as social media, preferring the traditional channels and structures. I'm not sure face-to-face is always as productive as it's often claimed to be. Although some face-to-face meetings can be very rewarding and productive I find many of them an unnecessary waste of a lot of time and a shorter e-meeting would have solved the problem much faster. In an asynchronous net discussion everyone has a say and there's time to think before you write, a luxury you don't have in a f2f meeting. In some cases we probably don't even need to have a meeting.

Is this a knee-jerk reaction that you have to be gathered in the same building to be able to work together? Is it a desire for more control, making sure that everyone is "on duty"? Does it show a lack of trust in the workforce? I think it's an instinctive and understandable back-to-basics move in the face of a serious situation. However the article in CNN reveals a lot of common stereotypes about flexible working - that people working from home have an easy option or may not be focusing on the right tasks (are office workers really more focused?). The article only mentions e-mail as communication channel for home workers, nothing about the successful use of e-meetings, communities, collaborative writing, crowd-sourcing, video forums and so on.

Flexibility can and does work if people feel empowered and motivated. Sometimes the strictest boss on earth is the one inside your head and I've found working days at home to be much more productive than many in the office.


  1. I completely agree with you. Confinement to time and place might be necessary for assembly line workforce with routine jobs. Unless that is what Yahoo staff is occupied with these restrictions will probably have the opposite effects.

  2. I'm sorry but it sounds like companies need to simply hire better. If you cant trust your employees to work from home then your trust issues are already degrading the workplace relationship and many younger employees will certainly look elsewhere to the likes of Nike, Google, or anyone in the Silicone Valley blue chip conglomerate. Times and technology has changed, and working smart is better than working hard :)