This morning I was interested to read that Marissa Mayer would end the Yahoo policy of allowing people to work from home. It appears that some Yahoo workers were able to work from home exclusively while others could spend varying amounts of time working between home and the office. There was also a period of time in which relocations and outsourcing further distributed the Yahoo workforce.
What surprised me about this is the weight of opinion that opposed this move and the feeling that it was counter productive. I think the reason it was such a surprise is that for the past 10 years there has been an up swell of opinion that the “power of team” was all important.
The entire Agile movement is based on bringing multidisciplinary teams together to work toward a common goal. Similarly, DevOps advocates shared goals and tight feedback loops between development and operations teams (depending on your view). In fact, most argue that not only should teams work from the same office but in table clusters that facilitate low cost but rich communication and knowledge dissemination via osmosis.
To achieve this rich collaboration and communication is a prerequisite. Face to face communication is the richest form of communication and as you move toward asynchronous communication such as email you might argue that you are not collaborating at all (you are just exchanging separate and distinct views).
You might also argue that IM, Video conference etc facilitate rich communication but the reality is that while it provides richer communication nothing beats face to face.
So then we have the water cooler effect. This is the effect of people discussing (or overhearing) conversations that they may never have in the normal course of their work. There is lots of analysis of the value of the water cooler effect so I won’t rehash it but suffice is to say that this goes out the window when you’re working from home.
I’ll finish this with a quote from Ryunosuke Satoro:
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”
Can we be together when some are at home, some are in the office, some are in offices far afield, some are in a different time zone etc? Even in today’s fully connected society I think the answer is no.