Is Working from Home a Boon or a Bane for IT Professionals?
Ask a young mother working as an IT professional which work policy she finds most dear and the option to work from home will more than likely top her list. Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer opened a can of worms of sorts back in February when she said she would ban working from home for Yahoo employees.
While the debate about the rationality of Mayer’s decision continues, the bigger question remains—does working at home help or hurt techies' productivity and innovation?
There are definitely different perspectives for employers and employees here. In one sense, software development is often a collaborative business and a team-focused scenario. Not knowing with whom you are working and dealing with the absence of a personal touch can cause potential communication barriers.
Michael D. Watkins, in his book The First 90 Days, popularized the use of the STARS model to assess business situations. STARS is an acronym for Start-up, Turnaround, Realignment, and Sustaining-success situations. Effective communication gains much more importance in the Realignment and Turnaround situations when the leader needs that emotional connection with people to help drive the necessary change in the organization. From the business standpoint, working from home arguably can be ineffective in these situations.
There is also a cost associated with lost or poor communication that often goes unnoticed. According to a study, some $37 billion per year is lost due to employee misunderstanding or misinformation. While the accuracy of these numbers can always be debated, the advancement of technologies like video conferencing, screen sharing, etc. have reduced the communication barriers that once existed.
Employees—especially those who are not billable by hours—generally tend to feel that the more flexibility a job offers, the more their work will be productive and conducive to innovation. And given the social shift in many cultures toward nuclear families with both spouses working, the balance of work and personal life is more a necessity than a choice.
One of the interesting remarks that Mayer recently made was that "people are more productive when they're alone, but they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together." This is a core philosophical belief behind defining the work-from-home policy, and that, like any policy, can be perceived differently.
As the Medici Effect indicates, the focus of innovation is more on the merging of the diversity of the fields, and that may not necessarily require a close physical proximity of people. Innovation is more a result of an organization’s dedication to a healthy culture, and working from home is only one minor cog in the wheel that defines that health overall.
Do you agree with the notion of banning working from home to enable innovation?