Yahoo's crackdown on remote working

Alison Maitland's picture

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, seems to be trying to outdo her former employer, Google, with her decision to order all employees who work remotely to get back to the office. The leaked memo to staffers says "We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together". Just how that's supposed to make sense in a global company when people are travelling for work and collaborating across time zones is a mystery. Google also discourages teleworking - CFO Patrick Pichette was recently reported as saying it was only when people were together in an office that they could experience the "magical moments" necessary for the company and its people to develop.

It's surprising that these Internet giants - one admittedlly doing rather better than the other - should take an all-or-nothing approach to collaboration when their business model is to supply the rest of the world with the tools to work, communicate and collaborate anywhere anytime. This is a trap that managers in more traditional enterprises often fall into - thinking that office and home are absolute and opposing states rather than just two of a growing range of options for when and where people work.

We're social animals, and face-to-face meetings are undoubtedly important, not least to establish and maintain strong social bonds. We also need quiet time and space for thinking and concentrated tasks. Manufactured group brainstorming sessions are not the only - or necessarily the best - way to boost creativity. Great ideas often formulate when we're taking exercise, or outdoors, or having a shower - when our minds are free rather than under pressure. Indeed, Matt Brittin, now Google's chief for Northern and Central Europe, said a couple of years ago that he got his best ideas cycling to work alone across a beautiful park.

The changes in how we live and work, unleashed by technology, globalisation and demographic shifts, are unstoppable. Leadership in this networked world has to be about inspiring, motivating and creating a flexible environment where people want to collaborate and unleash their creativity. Wielding organisational power to try to make people collaborate in a fixed place is likely to have the opposite effect.

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