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Should companies insist on policy of 'bums on seats' at the office? What about a blended approach to working?

The whole notion of working from home (a.k.a. telecommuting), can polarise opinion. Some people say that they need the routine of going to work, and once there, the interactions with colleagues, to be creative and productive. Others are insistent about the benefits of being able to concentrate and to not be distracted, or dragged into constant meetings.

In a post from a while back (Advances in technology and connectivity mean more people are workin...), Jo Gibson (education consultant) is interviewed and identifies some of the drawbacks as always feeling 'at work', working too many hours, and having to be disciplined about making time for family. But on the upside she reports that she has "far more quality time with my online partners and colleagues via Skype and web conferencing and collaborative docs (documents on the web) and social community spaces than I’ve ever had in the face-to-face workplace". She also mentions professional development: "What you can pick up from others via mere snippets of information can be as much as you’d learn going to a conference, and a whole lot cheaper too".

So - the head of Yahoo (CEO Marissa Mayer),has just announced that the company is rescinding its telecommuting policy, because “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together,” (source: Yahoo internal memo).

The decision has caused a lot of discussion, and not only by employees of Yahoo. The head of Virgin, Richard Branson described it as a backward step, and explained that "If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality" (source).

As someone who works from home most of the time (although I do travel for face-to-face meetings about once a fortnight), I wouldn't have it any other way. I thrive on the freedom and the ability to choose how I structure my day. I can get deep into my work, and if I need someone to bounce some ideas around with, I hop onto Skype or a Google hangout. This blended approach to work works extremely well for me. What are your thoughts? Do you work from home? Would you like the option of blended working?

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Comment by Hazel Owen on March 3, 2013 at 11:22

Your recommendation Pascale was disastrous because I spent hours reading! Fantastic!! were right to add the warning about Sacha Chuq's blog... Loved her way of being able to take her readers through her own thought and planning processes. And I think you are right about the presenters Leigh and I mentioned in previous posts ;-)

On the notion working from home...there seems to be a hang over from the high times of the industrial revolution, whereby unless you were clocked in, and could be seen working, then you must 'not' be working. It feels as though it is a mistrust that has become engrained into business models, policies and processes.

I also wonder, in part, it's because many people still really do not understand, and are not comfortable in the online spaces (just thinking of your brother's experience). I have talked with techie folk who say that some IT managers will still play the 'smoke and mirrors' card when it comes to areas such as online security. Yes, it is an issue, but if someone really wants to hack your system, they will.

Humans often have a tendency to think other people will experience the world as they do, and this maybe carries over to their approach to management and leadership. For example, a manager who needs to interact with other people face-to-face and finds it difficult to function without this may see this as applying to all the people with whom they work. I wonder too, if having their team physically around them makes a manager feel more like they are needed, and somehow doing a better job themselves?

Thanks for sharing Sacha's blog and for your comments and ideas :)

Comment by Pascale Hyboud-Peron on March 2, 2013 at 12:40

I too have most of my activity from home. I would find it hard to go back to office hours and a timetable imposed on me.  I agree with Jo's two points on the upside: collaborative tools actually make you connect when the need arise and that makes the connection more timely and immediately meaningful, and since you can interact when that need arise it allows space and time to collect and select snippets of info more readily. A conversation with my brother who had a sick child last week illustrated though that the large multinational he works for at a rather senior level is not willing to go the telecommuting way. My brother could not do what he had to do that day on his laptop while looking after his child for reasons of data security over "insecure" domestic internet connection. Hum.
I read your post Hazel shortly after having read Sacha Chua's considerations on this very matter. A little word of warning before you head over to Sacha's blog if you don't know it: it is a very addictive blog kept by an extremely eloquent coder come sketchnoter with an absolute passion for learning and tracking everything! (the ultimate eportfolio way of being!) Her descriptions of how she prepares for presentations would also be useful for the presenters you and Leigh were referring to in this previous post.

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