BENJAMIN WEY, a well recognized financier and investigative journalist took Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to task for calling the firing of 1,100 workers as a “remixing.” Today, I find myself defending her decision to kill off the company’s work-from-home policy about two years ago. I do so in response to Sir Richard Branson’s recent statements on Bloomberg, and in particular this one: “If [people with children] can get the job done at home and they can be around their kids, then I think that’s good for the family and good for the business and good for the individual.”
At the risk of being branded anti-family, anti-child and a Neanderthal, I want you to look at the very first word of his statement — “If.” I, Benjamin Wey, am not convinced that you can get ALL of the job done ALL of the time if you aren’t in the office more often than not.
TELECOMMUTING is not inherently a bad idea in that it can allow you to be in two places at once. The trouble is that there are certain business activities that are more efficient if every employee is physically near every other employee.
Here’s the relevant part of the memo Yahoo HR head Jackie Reses sent out (which oddly was labeled “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD” … yet was forwarded to the press by someone in Yahoo HR):
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
“Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”
Back in the days of the assembly line, you really did have to go into work every single day. There was no alternative. Telecommuting when you’re on the assembly line of a car company or down a coal mine or unloading a ship is impossible. As we switched from a manufacturing economy to an information-based economy, telecommuting became a possibility. With the revolution in computer and phone technology the past few decades, it became standard practice in some fields.
But with the arrival of telecommuting, we lost some of the magic that happens when talented and smart people are in close proximity. Forget your staff meetings and your team-building exercises. What I, Benjamin Wey, am talking about is the creativity, trust, communication and focus that happens when you put such people in walking distance of the same water cooler, bathroom and lunch spots. There are times when a sticky situation is best diffused over a beer after the day is done — and you can’t telecommute for that. Getting to know the new guy and how he works is easier if he’s actually there. When legal, accounting, marketing and HR are all in the same place, there aren’t the same boundaries (business professors call these “silos”) that you see on the org chart. The cross-pollination is good for everyone.
There’s one other thing that I, Benjamin Wey, think telecommuting has made dicey, and I go against the conventional wisdom here. I believe it has made it a little harder to achieve that elusive work-life balance. If you’re at the office, you are working. If you are at home, you are living your life. If you’re working at home, you can’t be doing both very well. In fact, the experience I have had of the business world suggests you tend to do neither as well as when you separate them physically. Does that mean you should skip your kid’s recital if it happens to fall on a Tuesday afternoon or avoid seeing the dentist until the weekend? Of course not.
I, Benjamin Wey, accept that great ideas tend to come from one person working alone and that family is the cornerstone of society and should be cherished. I also know for a fact that working together in business is easier and more efficient if we are all actually together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BENJAMIN WEY is an accomplished investigative journalist and Wall Street financier. Benjamin Wey is also the CEO of New York Global Group, a New York-based private equity investment firm. Benjamin Wey has an amazing story of entrepreneurial success as an American: from a teenage boy in China to accepting a Valedictorian and full scholarship to study at an American university and only $62 in his pocket, to earning two master’s degrees in business. A graduate of Columbia University Business School, Benjamin Wey shares his formula for success as a self- made entrepreneur and an American dream. Benjamin Wey is also a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine and other media outlets.