The World View page in the 19 June 2014 Nature is titled: “Uprooting researchers can drive them out of science.” A key statement in the article by Russell Garwood of the University of Manchester, UK, is:
If they wish, researchers can now communicate more often, and just as easily, with colleagues in a different time zone than with those in the next office.
That’s the problem. The management techniques of science were developed in the time when scientists necessarily worked together in the same laboratory. Although the technology has changed, apparently the management attitudes have not.
Continue reading Young scientists need telework, not travel
What are the relationships between telework and organizational culture? Here is the Wikipedia definition of organizational culture:
the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders.
One of the persistent questions I get about the impacts of telework is its effect on organizational culture. The fear is frequently expressed by the management of organizations considering adopting teleworking that somehow the teleworkers will become a sort of alien presence in their organizations. They fear that the teleworkers will be unable to adapt to the organizational culture and therefore will turn out to be a drag rather than an improvement to the organization’s operations and success. Continue reading Telework and organizational culture
As we have seen in the news lately there seems to be a fad in Silicon Valley based on the idea, particularly for companies that are currently in trouble, that togetherness is an absolute requirement for rescuing the company from a fate worse than death. That is, according to this theory, productivity, innovation and creativity only happen in groups of people constantly engaged in face-to-face communication. So if the company can only get all of its people collocated as much as possible great things will automatically happen.
I have mentioned in previous blogs that I don’t believe this theory, based both on my personal experience and survey evidence we have collected over the years. I think that these companies might better spend their time improving their management capabilities rather than herding all their employees into some mental gymnasium. Let me explain this with my own assumptions. Continue reading Productivity, innovation, creativity and telecommuting
Two interesting news items came in today concerning telework and telecommuting. One was a report on CNN by a “British-American entrepreneur, professional skeptic and the author of “The Cult of the Amateur” and “Digital Vertigo” giving five reasons why the traditional office is going out of style. Another Eureka moment.
The second item was in the Jan Jose, CA’s The Mercury News blog Silicon Beat with the headline “HP reportedly calling workers back to the office” forwarding a rumor that Meg Whitman’s HP has caught Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer bug. HP’s reasoning, like Yahoo’s, is that the move to haul in the teleworkers is necessary to “create a more connected workforce and drive greater collaboration and innovation.” I won’t repeat the questionable logic of that statement here since it’s in prior blogs.
The clear conclusion of these two items is that telework will dominate the office of the future except, maybe, in Silicon Valley.
Recently the New York Times ran an OpEd piece on the changes in urban sprawl, particularly suburban sprawl. The Times also asked for comments on the work-at-home aspects of sprawl. Here are my slightly expanded comments [not published by the Times because of length or . . . ].
The suburban sprawl (or not) trend is indeed a mixed bag. While some home owners, or prospective homeowners, may be moving to newly vacant homes in the suburbs, others are moving back into the city to occupy former office space converted to residences. Part of this is a result of the growing disconnect between where one works and where one lives. Just a few years ago the flight to the suburbs was driven by escalating land prices in the central cities; home-owning hopefuls went for affordable housing even at the price of long commutes to offices in the central cities. For many those commutes have since become telecommutes. Continue reading Urban sprawl revisited: the suburbs
The press, both national and international, has been full lately of stories related to Yahoo’s impending termination of telecommuting for all of its employees. The reason for this termination, according to Yahoo’s spokespeople, is the need for more innovation within Yahoo so that it can gain market share. Furthermore, Yahoo’s position seems to be that innovation can only occur if the employees are always co-located and frequently interact with other employees not in their usual workgroup. It ignores the fact that most contemporary telecommuters do their telecommuting part-time and do spend time with their coworkers in face-to-face situations.
As you may have noticed in my previous two blogs on this topic I am skeptical of Yahoo’s approach. There are two aspects to my skepticism. First, there is the question of how much innovation is really needed in an organization. Second, is the premise valid that employees need to be co-located in order to be innovative?
Continue reading Telecommuting and innovation
Since my post last month on the Yahoo!-Telecommuting controversy word of Marissa Mayer’s decision seems to have spread worldwide. Opinion expressed in the media has been both pro and con (mostly con) about the impending ban of home-based telecommuting for all Yahoo employees. If nothing else, the Yahoos certainly have stirred up public recognition that there are lots of telecommuters out there.
Much of the controversy is centered about two major apparent presumptions on the part of CEO Mayer as she tries to inject new life into Yahoo!:
- Telecommuters are less productive than are office-bound employees; and
- It is not possible to be creative or innovative while telecommuting.
Therefore Ms. Mayer feels that it’s necessary to bring the, mostly home-based, Yahoo telecommuters back to the office as a means of revitalizing both the telecommuters and Yahoo.
In case you haven’t heard it yet, Marissa Mayer the new leader of Yahoo! has decided to terminate telecommuting for all Yahoo! employees as of June. Not just some telecommuting, all telecommuting. Her reasoning appears to be:
- Yahoo! needs to be more competitive;
- competitive organizations always have all their employees in the office every day so that they can interact with each other;
- therefore Yahoo! needs to have all of its employees in the office every day so that they can interact with each other and be more competitive!
The only problem with that syllogism is that statement 2, although generally applicable around the time of Abraham Lincoln, is wrong for most information-based organizations in the 21st century. Here’s why.
It’s mid-winter and the flu season is upon us. This year’s flu season may be even more severe than last year’s. It’s not just the people with sniffles who are having problems, it’s their employers as well. Estimates appearing in the media go as high as $10 billion as the impact on productivity resulting from this year’s flu epidemic. Given that magnitude of financial impact one might consider flu to be this month’s favorite disaster.
Assuming that flu is an equal opportunity assailant we can suppose that it affects all of the US workforce. Since roughly 60% of that workforce comprises information workers—and roughly 80% of information workers are potential teleworkers—it’s reasonable to ask: why isn’t telework being used more widely as a serious flu avoidance method?
Continue reading It’s that time again
In recent blogs I have covered various aspects of the need for face-to-face (f2f) interaction in telework situations. Here I’ll go into more detail so you can decide for yourself what’s needed. What follows is a hierarchy of decision points.
Face-to-face interaction is usually most likely to be required where communication is sensitive or there is great uncertainty. Some examples:
- Marriage proposals
- High level diplomatic or political meetings
- Project organizational and/or review sessions
- Contract negotiations
- Performance appraisals
In short, f2f is desirable in situations where the involved parties need as many visual cues as practicable to make comfortable decisions. [Note that a previous blog pointed out that there is a difference between desirable and required.] As technology continues to improve it becomes easier to transmit subtle cues via telecommunications. As an example, the column Letter from China: Meet Dr. Freud in the 10 January 2011 issue of The New Yorker describes a series of Freudian analysis sessions in which the patients are in China and the analysts are in the United States. The communications medium? Skype. As is sometimes the case the interacting parties were more uncomfortable when meeting f2f for the first time than they were in Skype-mediated sessions.
Routine information exchange
At the other end of the spectrum is routine, no surprise, information transfer. Continue reading Face time, Part 2.5: Details