image from Wikimedia Commons
Several organizations have asked for our advice on “work-from-home” policies, particularly in light of the recent policy change at Yahoo, effectively rescinding their work-at-home program. I can’t speak for Yahoo, but the issues they are facing are very real… how can organizations encourage employees to connect with one another now that we’re so all so mobile and can work anywhere? Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s current CEO and formerly with Google, has seen the benefits of a culture that encourages employees to come into the office.
As our team learned in HOK’s design of Google Canada’s new Toronto office, they go to a lot of trouble to make sure their employees are enticed to come to their campuses and want to stay there by providing great food, dry cleaning, exercise rooms, games, etc. Honestly, pretty much every Google office is way cooler than my home and, yes, if I worked for Google I would absolutely be more likely to come into the office than stay at home to work. Google trusts their employees to make the right call on how they need to work to be as productive as possible.
Last Friday, I sat in a room with executives of an engineering company and had a discussion about this topic. We are in the midst of developing their overall workplace strategy as well as their telework (work from home) and mobile work (work from anywhere) policies. We were talking specifically last week about the need to encourage employees, when not with their customers, to be at the office. These employees are highly technical with a mission that requires that they share information on behalf of their customers. They need to communicate, collaborate and fortuitously “bump into” one another often in order to get their job done well. That said, the way they work is by thinking and researching for long periods alone, which is critical for innovation and the accuracy of their work.
The executives of this company were torn about how to communicate what they are trying to achieve. On one hand, collaboration is good for their business. On the other hand, working alone (at home or the office) is a highly effective way for their people to work. We discussed the importance of “trusting” their managers and employees to make the right call. At the end of the meeting, the executives opted for a strategy of providing their employees choice and clear measures for success and they decided not to create mandates. We also talked about the importance of creating a workplace that really helped attract employees to come into the office on a regular basis.
The other interesting anecdote that was discussed last week with these executives was the fact that their company actually measures how well individuals collaborate as part of their annual performance review process. Just about across the board, their teleworkers (those who work primarily at home) consistently score higher at being “great collaborators” over any other group. We talked about how this is likely because their teleworkers are concerned about how they are “out of sight and out of mind,” and tend to make communication and collaboration more of a priority than those who come in the office every day.
We advise clients to engage in conversations with their people about how to encourage more effective collaboration — to model the very behavior they are trying to achieve. We also like to check performance metrics. Do the organization’s metrics support collaboration and the culture they are trying to achieve? Or is there a need to create incentives to connect people and encourage innovation.
Having a ”choice” about working at home, being mobile or working full- or part-time at the office is an important option that attracts and retains talented people. These choices create greater satisfaction and allow organizations to align their needs with those of their employees. Given that employees are company’s most important asset, isn’t it worth a little flexibility to keep them around and happy?