Tag Archives: face–to-face interaction needs

Yahoo! marches resolutely into the 19th century

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:

  1. Yahoo! needs to be more competitive;
  2. competitive organizations always have all their employees in the office every day so that they can interact with each other;
  3. 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.

Continue reading Yahoo! marches resolutely into the 19th century

It’s that time again

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

Face time, Part 2.5: Details

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.

Sensitivity/uncertainty

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
  • Crises

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

Face time vs. Facebook time?

There has been an recurrent question about the viability of telework ever since we first started our research. The focus of the concern was the need—or lack thereof of—for face-to-face interaction in order to have success at X, where X is whatever work outcome is at issue. That is, is your average teleworker at a disadvantage because she substitutes Facebook (or Skype or Twitter) time for in-office face time? On 15 November 2010 the Financial Times published two articles, both focusing on business education, relevant to this problem. The first article, on page 16 of the US edition, discussed the plans of the Kenan-Flagler School at the University of North Carolina to offer an MBA via distance learning. As to the demand for such a program:

“It really brings together a lot of trends we have seen around the world,” says the dean, in particular students’ willingness to use the technology. “The population of students, people in their 20s and 30s, are so comfortable with technology and technology-mediated learning.”

Further into the article we have:

“Five years down the line I think essentially everything we do will be online,” [Chris Brady, dean of the business school at BPP] says. He believes students will be able to choose whether to study online or in a classroom, depending on convenience and cost. “Even if you are a student studying face-to-face, you would still have access to everything online.” He believes this will be the path taken by most mid-range schools. “If they don’t, they can’t grow.”

All this is particularly interesting to me since Stanford University and the University of Southern California began giving MS in Engineering degrees in the early 1970s, 35+ years before this innovation among the business schools. But then, engineers don’t really need to be able to talk to other people face-to-face, right? In general, these engineers showed up on campus only twice: once to register for the courses, the next time to accept their MS degrees. Now, of course, they can register online.

Continue reading Face time vs. Facebook time?