There are differing views on the necessity and effectiveness of remote working. Google would clearly prefer its employees to work from the office, and therefore has invested huge amounts of money in making their offices incredibly enticing to its employees. Yahoo!, headed by a former Google executive, recently told staff they will either work in their corporate offices, or leave the company. No negotiation.
The argument in Yahoo!’s case is that people are at their most innovative when they are in the same room and talk about ideas together. This knowledge sharing leads to innovation. There is also the traditional viewpoint that being seen by colleagues and bosses will increase an employee’s accountability, thus increasing productivity. The assumption is that being in the office will create this visibility to colleagues and bosses.
Believe what you see
I buy the argument that building relationships and trust among staff requires face time. I agree that a team that trusts each other, that knows how to work together and that has a good social relationship as well as a good professional relationship among team members will have higher productivity than a team that doesn’t. I would also agree that without accountability for their productivity, an employee’s productivity will likely drop.
What I disagree with is that bundling everyone into an office necessarily makes all this happen. Will people be social enough with everyone to share unique knowledge which will lead to innovation, rather than head to lunch with the same crowd every day (or indeed not head to lunch at all, instead eating a sandwich at their desk)? Does the presence of the boss and colleagues increase productivity or simply lead to employees doing what they think the boss will interpret as productive, even though they could be much more effective by completing tasks in their own way? The answers, as always, depend on the circumstances and above all, on the individual employee, their colleagues, and their bosses.
There is no one-fits-all
And this is the issue. Different people, in different situations, respond differently and have different needs. The more flexible the office is, the greater the flexibility a manager has to encourage and improve productivity when needed. At times a manager can collect a team in the same place at the same time, or introduce extra software when needed. Equally, at other times he or she can let employees work from a location and at a time of their choosing using their own software.
I would argue remote working can offer a “core office”, providing core software packages and using the physical offices as a core hub while leaving room for a high degree of flexibility for add-ons or customizable methods of working. Allowing a top class employee in India to work from home with their family in a different time-zone may well be more productive than hiring the least bad option locally because of the importance a firm places on being physically in the office. When face time becomes crucial, the team, wherever they are based, would be required to physically be present in a hub (the office or other relatively central meeting point) for a two-week period, or for a month.
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