As has everyone else, I’ve been fully inundated with news about Marissa Mayer’s decision to cancel all work from home options at Yahoo. Part of me really wants to be (and to some extent is) annoyed with the decision. However the other part of me says that work from home introduces some real challenges, and there is a time and place to require people to come into the office.
I have spent the last year working primarily from home in a consulting role for a small data analytics company, that has office in DC and Arkansas and customers across the nation. This meant that I could work flexibly around my children’s school schedule. It also meant that I could get online later in the evening to delve further into issues or respond to inquiries. Prior to this I managed a team across VA, OH, CO and India with customers in Ireland, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong and Georgia. I’m comfortable with managing separate time zones, different priorities and cultural differences. This does not mean it was easy. The primary business office was located in Georgia and technical operations was based in Colorado. I had employees in neither of those places. This made it increasingly difficult to have those casual conversations and accidental run-ins that are necessary when negotiating priorities and solving issues.
I solved this by travel fairly often to both offices. I often required my team participate in calls late in the evening or early in the morning with our Indian programmers, or our Ireland or Asia-Pacific customers. When I was in town, in either location, I tried to have lunch or dinners with team members, counterparts or customers. This established those relationships. However, I still saw challenges without having that presence. When one of my employees said he was looking to move out of state, I took the opportunity to introduce some new blood onto our team, and into our ops office. His work from home status was only a minor element in the decision not to keep him on.
A major initiative of mine was to integrate my team better into the organization, and work collaboratively with other teams. This was hindered by my teams remote status. They did not have the connections to other employees, had no desire to make those connections and definitely slowed the progress of this goal. One might argue that this was a result of the specific people not the policy. However, it did lead me to the decision that new additions to the team needed to be brought into the office, at least in the initial phases to build those relationships with other teams. It would considerably smooth the progress of our development efforts and increase the serendipity moments.
I appreciate Marissa Mayer’s courage to make unpopular decisions in her quest to turn around Yahoo. I can understand why this would be good for the organization in the foreseeable future. That said, if all companies took such drastic measures, it would greatly diminish my own personal well-being, as a mother and contributing member of society.