Inside TechStars Seattle

Do you get more done at home or the office? That’s the debate flying around tech circles these days after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer issued a memo requesting that Yahoos spend their days working in the office, rather than at home.

In a day and age when mobile technologies bring work to individuals’ fingertips at nearly every waking moment, Mayer’s edict certainly set off a fervent debate.

Mayer wrote:

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.

That sounds great, but Reuters reports on a Bureau of Labor Statistics study which showed that telecommuting “seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism, and increase retention” and a Cisco study which found that telecommuting saved the company $277 million each year.

Several tech companies around the Seattle area encourage employees to work from the office, but they don’t have a set policy per se. At Amazon.com, for example, we’re told that the work-from-home policy depends on the department. Microsoft also has allowed for more telecommuting in recent years.

Startups tend to offer more flexibility, but the issue also resonates with small companies where speed and quick decisions matter.

Now, granted, I am writing this post while laying on my couch in my basement … in my boxer shorts. (That’s just the life of a tech journalist). I certainly get more writing done while operating solo at home (writing late in the evening or early in the morning). But there are certainly benefits to getting the clan together, one of the reasons we also have office space (cutting down on countless emails back and forth).

So, what do you think? Are tech workers more productive in the office or the home? It certainly depends on the type of work you do, but let us know in the comments what works for your team and what you’ve learned from it. (Also, I am going to hear productivity guru David Allen speak this evening, and I’ll plan on asking him what he thinks of the Yahoo decision).

Comments

  • http://www.MelCarson.com Mel Carson

    During my time at Microsoft for me the office environment was great for strategy work, collaboration, brainstorming with colleagues etc. But it was nice to get a day or two at home (or somewhere else quiet and distractionless) to get tasks completed – email backlog, PPTs, document writing etc. I now have my own social media consultancy and relish the opportunity to go and spend the day with clients in their offices now and again.

    • Guest

      I feel the same way. There is a lot you get done much more effectively and faster in office with your co-workers right there. However, there is a lot you get done more effectively and faster when you don’t have your co-workers…right there. I think a lot of it depends on the work environment and who you work with. I’ve had some co-workers that had no shame in sitting on my desk yapping away while I had a tight deadline. The other side is having great co-workers that ‘just get it’ and you can basically send a quick note over IM and be done. Much of it comes down to respect and setting projects up so that work can be done together but also allowing people to work independently when needed. Some programmers want to work in a bank vault with the lights off.

  • Ivor Horton

    To survive in the software industry you need to be in the office during core hours (10am – 6pm) and working from home evenings and weekends. Seriously, if you can’t/won’t do it the corporation will replace you with a hungry new hire who will.

  • http://melissakowalchuk.com Melissa Kowalchuk

    Interesting results so far! I think it totally depends on the person – some people get distracted by people (therefor I do better at home) while others get distracted by things (tv, doing chores, etc.) and thus do better at work. I’ve always been a fan of working where is best for you and just being held to your objectives for this very reason!

  • elbowman

    I think it really depends on your job, your personal work ethic, and your home situation. Some jobs can be accomplished well without the constant disruption that is the typical office environment. Some people are self-driven self-motivated and work well alone. Some homes either are, or can be made to be, excellent workplaces, with little to no distractions and devoid of disruption.

    However, everyone should be brought into the workplace from time to time to feel part of the team, and to realize they aren’t alone. How often that is depends on the the work, the workplace, and the team.

    Work is not an all or nothing proposition. Situations differ from job to job, company to company, day to day.

  • McLovin

    It’s a false dichotomy: no one size fits all and at all times. The key is to trust your employees to do what works best for them (and their teams), and hold them accountable for results, including not only business objectives but also team morale. Easier said than done, but a dogmatic blanket edict is certainly a step in the wrong direction.

  • http://twitter.com/employeeze Kristen Fife

    Yahoo
    is defining productivity in different ways than “minutes worked” in
    collaboration and innovation; “cost benefit” isn’t just about electric bills and real estate footage; it’s about the synergy you get in face to face
    situations. Some flexibility should be available, but not at the cost of losing that creativity.

  • http://adamgering.com/ Adam Gering

    She’s making a decision regarding a sinking ship, so of course it makes sense to call all hands on deck. What Yahoo! requires in the present does not necessarily apply to any normal situation. Working at home is great for accomplishing well-defined tasks, and terrible for being innovative. Yahoo needs innovation, they have executed themselves into irrelevance.

    • Eelco

      Working from home terrible for innovation? No. Thinking hard and deep, focus (on solving hard problems), being able to stay in your flow are things that enable persons to be innovative, and the office is often (in practice at least) a terrible place for that.

    • http://twitter.com/fijiaaron Aaron Evans

      Marissa Mayer is a token fig leaf to political correctness. It’s as if the captain of the Titanic had given the helm to Kate Winslet as he jumped overboard in a life vest to prove that women can succeed at navigation.

  • Bob

    The decision is very contextual and varies by company, even by person. It is silly to say there is only one right answer. Banning all work from home seems weird, but banning jobs that are 100% at home can make sense. I know people who are very effective from home, others who are not. Some flexibility to work from home seems to garner more loyalty and I think more productivity, because people don’t leave work at the office, but that is a personal view.
    Judging by the number of Microsofties who “work from home” on Friday and run all their personal errands on Friday, I’d say it may not always work as their employer’s plan.

  • Thos

    If no kids, home is better, else office is way better.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    Sadly I think a lot of the “experts” I’ve seen weigh in on this are missing some key points.

    First of all, a key point is whether the company culture can effectively support remote work. In my own experience, I can say that Microsoft is not culturally well equipped to support remote work (outside of a few groups like technical writing). Microsoft has trouble working effectively with people in Sammamish let alone further afield or from home: often once the phone bridge for a meeting is closed, additional side conversations happen and new directions are decided that leave the remote people entirely out of the loop.

    By contrast, Trend Micro, whom I work for now, grew up as a global company and so supporting remote working (whether from home or in offices around the glove) is much more natural.

    I’m not saying either is necessarily better or worse, just that the company culture is a key part of the viability of the option.

    The other key point is that different jobs have different optimal workspace requirements. This isn’t just about working from home but office design and layout too. Some disciplines do work well in cubical or bullpen type spaces. Other though require the ability to close yourself off and focus intently on what you’re working on. Here it’s less about “working from home” and more about the fact that office space considerations almost always take a “one size fits all” approach that optimizes for some disciplines but not others.

    Personally I think this is as much a tactic to force some staff to self-select out and save them money on termination and severance packages.

  • http://twitter.com/fijiaaron Aaron Evans

    The really sad thing is that the reason working from home is more productive is because it limits distractions.

    We have these huge buildings designed with one purpose — to limit distractions so people can get work done.

    What an absolute failure!

    I’m not saying that collaboration doesn’t increase productivity too, but it’s a terrible indictment that the immense benefit of collaboration is outweighed by the interruptions and distractions of the office — by a place with a TV, a kitchen, and even kids.

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