In the early days of the digital revolution, the idea that anyone could work anywhere
was enough to entice workers everywhere to request telecommuting
options. But when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced a ban on working
from home in February, it ruffled feathers in the corporate world. Critics slammedthe decision saying it was inflexible, hurting long commuters and working mothers, among others.
Now Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman is following in a similar fashion. Although she hasn't put into place a outright ban, she announced that she wants everyone to work at the office saying, "During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck." Nancy Koehn, who teaches at the Harvard Business School, says there's a strong case for the flexibility to be able to work from home.
"But that doesn't necessarily translate into across the board,
stamp of approval on telecommuting, at every moment, in every industry,
for every company," she says.
Supporters of the ban on telecommuting would be happy to know
that since Mayer's annoucement, Yahoo's stock has shot up. Koehn says
that although it's hard to demonstrate an exact correlation, there are
some positive changes at Yahoo that are hard to ignore.
"Not all work is meant to be done alone," she says. "A lot of
work -- the best work, often -- is done with others in serious pursuit,
and often in a place where everyone meets to do it."
At HP, Meg Whitman Wants People to Show Up for Work
Photograph by Shanghai Daily via AP Photo
In the 1970s, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)
popularized the idea of “management by walking around”—MBWA for short.
Top executives and group directors would cruise about so that they could
get feedback and a sense of company morale directly, while also
imparting business goals and a corporate ethos sans the middleman. Reed
Hastings, chief executive officer of Netflix (NFLX), practices an extreme version today, eschewing an office altogether in favor of working at random places around the company’s headquarters.
the years, HP’s fondness for MBWA faded. Executives cloistered
themselves in spacious offices while the rank and file packed into
cubicles. When HP’s real estate costs spiraled out of control, many
employees were told to skip the commute and work from home. (This still
happens, by the way: The Arizona Republic recently encouraged employees to set up shop at McDonald’s (MCD) and Starbucks (SBUX).)
Well, the touchy-feely days are back again at HP. Sort of. The company appears to have issued a new edict
calling for more employees to show up at the office more often. The
hope is that this will foster more collaboration and that—just like the
good old days—HP employees can get directives from managers, in person.
Led by Meg Whitman, HP remains in the midst of a protracted
restructuring. The new policy, according to an internal memo making the
rounds, fits in with the revival bid. According to the memo:
this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck. We
recognize that in the past, we may have asked certain employees to work
from home for various reasons. We now need to build a stronger culture
of engagement and collaboration and the more employees we get into the
office the better company we will be.
Upon hearing about HP’s decision, folks in Silicon Valley have been quick to link it to a similar move made months ago at Yahoo! (YHOO)
by Marissa Mayer. Apparently, turning up at an office is the hip, new
thing to do, particularly for companies in turnaround mode.
twist is that both HP and Yahoo are among hundreds of companies that
over the past 20 or so years have tried to improve collaboration
technology and adapt it to the Internet era. E-mail, Skype (MSFT), WebEx (CSCO),
Lync, Box, and all the rest ought to have eliminated most of the
practical barriers to working remotely. Yet we continue to be reminded
that our trove of collaboration technology just doesn’t cut it. People
tend to do more amazing things when they’re located among other people.
Whether or not Whitman can transform HP remains an open
question. What we’ve been seeing, though, is that she embraces some
practices—getting rid of executive suites, putting fresh paint
on HP’s headquarters—that are both symbolic and pragmatic. It was
probably only a matter of time before she’d actually want people to
start coming into the office, too.