Some of you might be old enough to recall the “comedian” from the mid-80’s who went by the moniker of Yahoo Serious. He had a nominal hit movie and his career died out soon after. He even tried to collect from Yahoo! for trademark infringement — yeah. Anyway, when learning the news of Marissa Miller’s recent edict (she’s the one with a nursery in her office) that Yahoo!’s telecommuting is about to end, my initial thought was, are they serious?
Now, I don’t know Tom Wallerstein — I know for sure I am no Tom Wallerstein in the writing department — but I will take on this issue of working from home, and its benefits.
For me, working outside of the office is no different than sitting in front of the company issued laptop, at the company issued desk, in my company issued chair. In fact, I have told my boss to save the rent, pay for my phone and a copier (see what I did there?), and I would be all set in my home office. We have IM capability, and I would guess that 90% of our communication is by email. I have to say that the “opportunity for face to face communication” argument is not only trite, but it is not how the in-house world works — at least at my level.
Now, a GC who is regularly in board meetings or meeting with the CFO, CEO, or COO, or CIO, is going to need to be around, no doubt. But if you have an in-house job that does not require you to be “on campus” or even in an office, why in the world do you need an office? The only real answer I can come up with is that the old guard, and the old way of doing things, is resistant to change. Why wear a piece of silk tied in a particular knot around your neck in order to simply sit at your desk? It’s weird. Why use the words “hold harmless” in an indemnity clause? What if you did some harm? Some smarter courts are catching on to obsolescence and vestigial language, and holding feet to the fire for using boilerplate. The point is, “the way it’s always been done” is not a compelling argument for continuing to do certain things. Like making people come into a space set aside as an office by a certain time each day, and then releasing those people to go back home at a certain time each day. It is wasteful. It is an obsolete model. And it is strange.
Of course if one is part of a “team” that is creatively working day by day to come up with a new and useful item or document, it may behoove the team to meet in a central locale supplied with smartboards, markers, a/v equipment, etc. But, usually, those meetings can also take place virtually; paying travel expenses so a team can meet in a central location is usually an excuse for a boondoggle. And I have yet to attend a staff meeting in person where the main event was not the speaker of the day, but the pizza and refreshments.
We are a large company with a legal team spread around the world. Our meetings are regularly held on Webex because the logistics would make them an impossibility otherwise. More specifically, I am an East Coast resident representing clients from Denver all the way to Guam. It makes no sense for me to arrive in the office at nine Eastern, the folks in Hawaii are still asleep. I understand that my situation may be unique. Yahoo! has a central campus and wants to collect their employees each day. (Or, to be a tinfoil hat-type about the change, they want to see how many people quit, in a cost saving measure). But this notion that telecommuting is not worth the savings when compared to the morale boost, and productivity of workers like me, seems to be, well, a bit off the mark.
I think Tom Wallerstein made the best argument that can be made about a small-ish office flourishing when folks are around in person. But, I also believe that Marissa Miller may have just (intentionally or otherwise) made a huge mistake.