We’ve been tracking the Yahoo employee telecommuting discussion (YahooGate?) for a few months now here at The Methodology Blog. Last week, CEO Marissa Mayer clarified that ending their work-from-home program was “wrongly perceived as an industry narrative.”
First, a reminder of what’s going on. As we previously covered Yahoo dumped telecommuting through a memo (which I called “incredibly foolish.”) That document stated “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”
But last week, Mayer updated everyone with some new information. CNNMoney reports:
Mayer defended her decision by first acknowledging that “people are more productive when they’re alone,” and then stressed “but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”
Okay, I can’t really argue with that. It’s true that most people are more productive when they are alone. But that statement is a little bit unfair by itself, because it’s really talking about the kind of productivity which is related to distraction. For example, athletes perform better in groups, even if they aren’t specifically told they are competing.
And it’s also true that most people are more collaborative and innovative in small groups. But those groups don’t need to be in person. In the book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, Michael Nielsen writes:
Online tools are enabling architecture of attention that go beyond what is possible in offline methods of collaboration.
Perhaps Marissa Mayer should note that Yahoo has been long heralded as one of the companies that most aggressively uses Linux, the open source operating system. And Linux is created and maintained almost entirely by thousands of volunteers who collaborate almost solely using online tools.
Surely since Yahoo’s employees are paid, they can collaborate online as effectively as the volunteers who created the operating system that the company depends upon?
Regardless, though, the conversation has shifted away from productivity to innovation. Mayer seems to believe that Yahoo’s number one challenge is finding ways to be more innovative, not ways to be more productive.
That’s an entirely different question. But it doesn’t escape the fundamental issue of empowering team members to get work done whenever and wherever they believe makes the most sense.