Teleworking stifles creativity and promotes isolation

by Iain Hopkins27 Feb 2013

Two of the biggest names in technology don't walk the talk when it comes to accommodating work from home options for employees.

On Friday last week, workers at Yahoo in the US received a memo from head of HR, Jackie Reses, who told remote employee that by June, they needed to be working in Yahoo offices.

The confidential memo was leaked online by AllThingsD:

"Yahoos,

Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.

Jackie"

The announcement has sparked fierce debate, and curiously coincides with similar moves over at Google. That working from home, or ‘teleworking’ doesn't foster an environment conducive to productivity and creativity is an opinion shared by Google chief financial officer Patrick Pichette. "The surprising question we get is: 'How many people telecommute at Google?'” Pichette said at a talk in Sydney last week. “And our answer is: 'As few as possible'.”

Pichette was in Australia to visit Google's office and the local start-up community, and commented that the stance by seem counterintuitive. “People think, 'Well, because you're at Google you can work from anywhere.' Yes, you can work from anywhere, but many just commute to offices . . . Working from the office is really important,” he is quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald.  Working from home could isolate employees from other staff, and Pichette emphasised the limitations it can have on creativity. “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer 'What do you think of this?' These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities,” he said.

Yet the teleworking phenomenon is one deeply supported by the federal government. It has been touted as one of the key benefits of rolling out the national broadband network, and last year Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a commitment to have 12 per cent of the Australian Public Service regularly teleworking from home by 2020.

How is teleworking managed in your organisation? Does it stifle creativity and isolate employees?

COMMENTS

  • by Marie Crozier-Durham 27/02/2013 5:14:11 PM

    Successful telework/work from home arrangements require insightful teleworker selection, insight into cognitive and work styles, assessment of task suitability, development of teleworker, co-workers and managers, and design of the telework environment.
    Within this framework, is hard to understand how telework/work from home would not be part of the range of options a company would draw on to improve culture, talent attraction, productivity, commitment, diversity, creativity and innovation.
    Innovation occurs when a range of factors are in place - including when cognitive styles and environments are compatible. So serendipitous meetings, magical lunches and communicating side by side do support some instances of culture and innovation. But so do diversity, virtual teamwork, individual deliberation and a capacity for handling ambiguity – all associated with telework.

  • by Mike 4/04/2014 5:46:41 AM

    Some people work better from home, without having a manager looking over their shoulder all the time. Some people's productivity goes in bursts, where most of the productive work in a day gets done in only a few hours, where the rest of the time is spent "goofing off", which an office environment is not conducive to. The time spent on breaks or doing other things is important to rest the mind and let it process ideas in the background.

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