Yahoo, telecommuting, focused work, and higher ed

There’s been a good amount of chatter over Yahoo’s kibosh on telecommuting. They’ve called everyone back to the office. Work from here, or don’t work. 

Some people think it’s great. Others think it’s a move backwards. A few things stand out:

  • Every workplace is different. Programmers who can be evaluated on productivity and lines of code may not need the same office environment as other jobs.
  • Environment matters. Some part of creativity comes from serendipitous conversations and connections. There’s something about connecting face to face with your coworkers that makes a difference.
  • Sometimes, to do good work, you need an environment where you can focus. This article hit home for me. It’s great to work from home, but it’s also frustrating to try to do good work from home if your work requires concentration. Sometimes it’s best to go somewhere, be present, and do your work. Then go somewhere else, be present, and do whatever you do when you’re not working.
  • The author says it better here: “Look, I don’t know what Marisa Mayer is thinking. I’ve heard her workforce is lazy–telecommuting for no good reason at all. I’ve heard her called draconian, a traitor to mothers, to parents, to her generation. And I don’t really care what she’s up to at Yahoo, whose raison d’être has been in doubt for more than half the company’s existence. But I do know that I like to work at work—it lets me separate that me from the other me, the dad I am when the sun goes down from the guy who’s charged with steering a publication into the future. Neither my family nor my co-workers should have to deal with the other guy. I certainly wouldn’t want to.”

I wonder what relation this has to the online vs physical university trends we are seeing in higher education. For some people, working at home works. But for others, going to a place with other people for a focused time makes a difference. 

Looking at undergraduate education, non-traditional students can benefit from how online options allow them to fit education into an already full life. And we absolutely need to rethink how the traditional undergraduate experience is shaped. But the physical environment – around other people, working together for a purpose – still makes a difference.

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but for some groups, the environment and experience can make a real impact on the outcome.

2 responses to “Yahoo, telecommuting, focused work, and higher ed”

  1. I agree. The days I “work” from home always seem less productive. It’s hard to concentrate when you’ve got Hoda and Kathie Lee squawking in the background about something during the fourth hour of Today.

    I will never have the kind of discipline to do school online. Allison did really well with it for her Master’s. Me? I had a hard enough time going to class in a traditional college setting. Throw in two post-menopausal women drinking wine and talking about The Real Housewives, and I’d never get any learning done.

  2. Agreed – work from home seems to work only for certain people or in role where you have strong productivity measures in place (which only works for certain types of jobs).

    I think it also makes a difference what type of general “ownership” you have in the company/role/job. Obviously there are many “work at home” small business owners who work hard because if they don’t it’s not going to happen. Other types of highly-dedicated people with a strong sense of ownership might be able to succeed outside of the cut and paste productivity models. These people probably can easily put in well over 40+ at all hours of day and night.

    But if you’re JUST putting in 40 hours and you have a low sense of ownership and minimal productivity measures then your probably not really “working” the number of hours your getting paid for.

    Granted those in the office might spend less than there 40 as well over conversations in offices, break areas, etc.

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