So yahoo has now sparked the whole “is it better to work from home debate”. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has thrown down the gauntlet and is now going to enforce people to come into the office. And I agree, you need people to be in the office, but could this be a very bad thing?
The cost of working from home
Ultimately, this what it’s all about, and this is all speculation and assumption on my part but lets have a look at the costs of working from home. First, and most “soft” topic is that there is a claim (from bosses) that working at home encourages people to slack off. This is just purely from a person point of view, there is no hard and fast rule about peoples behavior at home. Some people are slackers, some are not. It’s very hard to evaluate a persons productivity in the week.
Something more measurable is the cost of “group thinking” – where you feed off each other and get help from each other to solve problems effectively. There is a cost to working alone in my profession. Big cost is the lack of knowledge sharing, from “hand over” type knowledge to simple things such as information on daily bug fixes (eg. “you can’t just write a method to deny access because customer A needs access still”). Bugs, miscommunication and disjointed work can be hugely costly.
Another soft cost is no accountability to product. It’s so easy to ignore the fact there are other people involved when you never see them. This happens in the office too, those remote satellite office people who mysteriously get your number. I feel nothing for them and there problems, and I think that could happen while working from as well. Perhaps even more so because of the possible attitude of “don’t bring that attitude to my home”.
There can also be the problem of not having access to company resources, or even being the victim of the “don’t bring that attitude to my home” when you need some help. Company resources can be wonderful, free calls to other work people will be missed if you are at home. Sure, there is Skype, but not everyone has it available all day.
So these are some major impacts that can happen on your products, your service and timelines. It can be pretty damning to a company.
The good things about working from home
With the bad, comes the good.
Home work can be more productive. If you take into account the time saved in traffic, and the stress saved involved in commuting every day – you get happier employees. Happy employees are productive employees. Also, the range of people you can access increases dramatically – you can now hire a very talented someone who lives very far away. Considering the shortage of talented and skilled programmers out there, it’s possibly a good thing. Also, it’s an added incentive to get the best to stay with you.
Another cost saving side is office space, network costs, internet costs, lighting, safety and every thing that comes with running an office. Offices are expensive. Having a workforce at home gives that person much more space and comfort than a company could offer.
Another double edged sword is that when people work from it starts to blur the lines of when work starts and stops. You can get people being productive during times they wouldn’t normally be productive. Such as the 30min to 1hr that they would normally be stuck in traffic they are instead doing some hard work. The double edge comes in that it may start to make home feel like work and demotivate. Used responsibly people can be much more productive and willing to help out while outside of normal work hours, provided it’s in moderation of course.
Depending on the persona and home environment you’ll also fun less unnecessary interruptions. I’ve found that interruptions are devastating to my productivity and the main reason I’m much more productive at home.
So which is better?
Neither and both. It really depends on the size of the company, the product, the people, work environment. Although, what I will say about this whole topic is that if you have people that are passionate and committed to what they do (ie. They love what they do) they will find what makes them most productive, and that’s what you’re looking for. Enable people to be most productive in a way that fits them.
No really, which is better?
If someone can work from home, a combination of working at the office and at home. When you need to be at home for reasons let them be at home but encourage them to come to the office as much as possible (at least 50%+ of the week) by making the office a nice place with nice people and resources.