Yahoo has rebutted the current trend in the IT industry by asking their work from home employees to return to offices. While this has shocked many IT innovators, I can see common sense prevail over practicalities.
Work from home is a popular option among many IT organizations, especially those in the service industry. IBM employs it to the fullest and is reaping the monetary benefits of its introduction. By working from home, employees can save commute time, money spent on transport and food, and can enjoy the benefits of staying home with family and working in between :). The major benefactor for the employee is perhaps the work life balance which is touted as the perennial problems faced by IT employees worldwide. For organizations, it is all about cut backs. They no longer have to pay for employee’s seating costs, power, air conditioning, parking and other administrative costs.
While there are good things to come out of work from home, for a company like Yahoo, is it a viable option? Let’s look at Yahoo’s business. Yahoo is in the business of product development, marketing and selling (mostly). Work in the product industry does not happen in a vacuum or in isolation. Collaboration and communication makes or breaks products. For effective and efficient collaboration, face to face meetings, brain storming and working in groups must be encouraged. One of the better ways to achieve it is by co-locating employees to work out of a single office, which translates to booting them from the comfort of their homes and asking them to report into offices.
No matter what kind of technology we may pride after, such as video conferencing and online collaborating, they limit the human psyche. Having people sit across the table from you rather than in small windows on your monitor is not the same. The physical experience is richer and brings in the real YOU. It is perhaps OK to use technology for meetings that needs to happen from time to time, and for those that has to do more with numbers rather than creative instincts. For those working in the same project, working on the same product, integrating with a common ERP, must co-locate, see each other and build ideas into reality. Yahoo is in this group and is spot on to bring about this change.
IBM may be reaping the benefits of work from home option, but the kind of work that takes place is way different than that of Yahoo. IBM’s major business is in IT services industry which depends on processes and governance to do the trick. They employ strong processes, which ensures that complying and following the processes stringently wherever employees are, they bring out similar results.
To summarize, organizations should pick horses for courses. IBMs and Yahoos sit on the extreme ends of a spectrum. Other organizations can bank on this paradigm and choose their strategy to either bring their employees in or to decentralize them.