Is it a good idea to completely ban work from home?

by Ashvini on March 5, 2013 · 6 comments

in General

Recently CEO of Yahoo decided to send a memo to the company’s employees asking them to wind up the work from home. That means the employees need to come to office after a certain date. The main reasons were probably because of distractions employees encounter while working at home and also the assumption that work at office spurs productivity and increase collaboration.

My opinion on this is simple. It is a retrograde step. To introduce a blanket ban on working from home locations is counterproductive .

Does a blanket ban work?

Hardly.

I am from the country where things against the popular view ( for example a book, a movie or a magazine) are instantly banned by the government. But these bans don’t work. If you ban things , you make them more precious. Just like the curious animals who get caught because they can’t see the bait trap, humans behave similarly.

Work from home has now become a precious commodity. People are going to miss the office and then make excuses for doing so. Not that they are lying but sometimes people need to be at home too. Blanket ban encourages employees to  find ways to circumvent it.

What about distractions then?

As with home, there are distractions in the office too. Colleagues who gossip, meetings that go and on and on,phones that ring continuously are equally worse when compared to a  child at home who needs looking after. Smoking breaks, small events in office and other things easily waste one to two hours of an employee. If you are at home, you can be free of “distractions of the office”. The distractions are everywhere and a smart employee knows how to protect herself from them.

Productivity, collaboration is better in office where you get in touch with each other.

It is very very hard to measure  productivity at least in high tech industries. If I were winding coils on a drum , it could be precisely measured. But how can one measure productivity in high tech companies? If I validate a form’s fields in a web page, is it better to do it in five minutes or ten or is it better that I took twenty and it worked well. It is the myth of software and high tech productivity that it is measurable. There is no proof that office help increase productivity. If we want to reach out to colleagues , email and chat systems can help us to do that.

The poll here http://www.geekwire.com/2013/poll-tech-workers-productive-home-office/ is divided equally between productivity at office and office. Some people are productive at home , some at office. It is the individual style of work.

Creativity

One can get bouts of creativity anywhere. One can be creative either in office,in home or while sitting below a tree ( just like Newton). Location does not matter. A person for example could get creative while listening to music at home and another could get ideas while on a walk after lunch. Creativity is not our servant. It decides to happen only at its own pace. It is hardly a conscious activity. Staying in office is no guarantee of creativity

Loss of flexibility: Back to old fashioned ways ?

In my city, a commute costs at least an hour to be at the office. Two hours in commute plus ten hours of work is twelve hours of time in a day. Often the time of commute is saved when there is enough flexibility of working from your desired location , provided the employee sincerely puts in the time gained into work. Taking the flexibility away is like going back to the days of the industrial economy. How will it work for unorganized tech industry is not very clear to me. In my corporate life, my work hours have been from six to twenty hours, depending on the work load. I cannot understand how to normalize them to eight hours per day.

But what about the real cases of employees misusing the flexibility?

There are plenty of employees, who will take a given facility for granted and misuse it. However , taking away the privileges from all employees because a few is like putting a class to punishment because one child threw a chalk at the teacher. It is against all principles of justice and is just plain laziness of management. Its far better to tighten the screw on  employees who misuse facilities and reward those who do good work. Giving a positive economic incentive always works for better. Taking it away creates potential for misuse

Bad planning?

It’s the task of project managers to set timelines on specific actions, to be done by a specific employee. If an employee needs a lot of time to come up with something creative, he or she should be provided that luxury ( within reasonable boundaries, of course).

If the work has been properly broken down, responsibilities well assigned and timelines are clearly communicated, is there any need for any curbs? People will interact with others and work to make sure that their part is done. It may not be easy to often establish clear cut lines of work but it is no impossible.

Even meetings can be structured to be regular and it one could specify if people are needed physically.

Employee morale

I like to work from my room with music playing on my laptop. Some people need formal structured office. Its not productive to force people to live a life they don’t enjoy. People have different styles of working and boxing them in manager’s preferred style is just not fruitful.

Global workforce

Most of the companies have global workforce. If you are in USA, you come to office from 8 AM-4PM US time . What if you need collaboration with Indian colleagues working 8AM-4PM their time? Then these two teams probably will never meet or meet at wrong times. Lack of flexibility thus leads to trouble for all employees around the world.

So is it a good move?

Again I would add, that I do not know the complete situation which prompted this memo. However based on my experience, I would say, I would be highly dissatisfied if curbs are placed on my flexibility. It would probably lower my morale and my creative instincts. Blanket bans never work.

It is also dependent on industry and job role

Some industries cannot do without people being together. Some job roles require people to be at office 100% of the time. Thus the decision can be made on case by case basis. Blanket ban however does not work ( once again)

Instead of this policy here is what CEO could do:

  1. Limited work from home
  2. Work from home on a case to case basis
  3. Allow work from home based on past employee behaviour
  4. Set guidelines for work from home
  5. Constantly review the needs of employees to work from home
  6. Provide helpdesk for example to take care of employee needs . Also provide crèches to working mothers.
  7. Keep the employee happy by providing employee friendly policies.

What is your take on the issue ?

Image courtesy of Stuart MilesFreeDigitalPhotos.net

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