Ok, so I think almost everybody has either slammed Marissa Mayer about the new Yahoo non-remote worker policy or said that it’s the medicine they have to swallow. Very few are actually pointing out however, that Yahoo was probably just really bad at managing their remote employees. In the end, I don’t care, that just means there are now going to be more people who are probably great that will be available in a tech market that is happy to hire the talent!
But I do digress, I have something else to talk about that is actually productive. I’m going to kick this off with a short story, that actually inspired me to write this post.
Remote Workers Unite!
I was in the office, a coworking office called NedSpace in downtown Portland with my fellow Bashoians Eric Redmond (@coderoshi) & Chris Tilt. Generally we all work remotely, because everyone at Basho is remote. The entire company, from CEO to HR to Marketing to Engineering, everybody is remote. Basho does a solid job of working like this, it is indeed, a modern Internet enabled software company. However today we were all in the office.
— Adron Hall (@adron) February 27, 2013
Within a few minutes, lo and behold in the glare of my Apple Cinema Display I see Scott Hanselman walk up behind me! (Isn’t this building secure?!!? Scott’s name is now Hacker Hanselman!) Wow, that doesn’t happen everyday or does it? So Eric & Chris finished up some coding. Chris headed off to return home, where he remotely works from. However Eric, Scott & I headed out for a stroll through the city of Portland to Case Study Coffee. We had a great conversation, discussing all sorts of blog entry ideas, Node.js oddities, duplications between Rail & Node.js & Java & .NET and all sorts of other things. I mean, you probably know how it goes when you have three geeky people going on endlessly about awesome nerdy stuff. Simply put, we covered a lot of topics.
…that’s when I thought…
Offices Are Often The Worse Place to Cross Pollinate Ideas
Not a little bit, but likely the absolute worse places to cross-pollinate ideas. But then I got to thinking a little bit more. Is Yahoo on to something? Is there a need or a reason why people should be in a similar place? I mean, I know for a fact the most rapid learning I ever had was pair programming with other coders. But I’ve done this in an office and outside of the office, at coffee shops and hackathons, on the rooftop of buildings and in dark and dreary bars. I’ve paired with a lot of coders and learned a lot by doing that.
Another question came up, is it really important to be in the office or is it important to be near others you are working with? More of that thinking and remembering things and more experiences popped into my mind. Whew, this was becoming a serious thinking session. I’d also had a great experience working remotely and learning at practically the same rate with friends. We were all working on an open source project. We asked questions in general chat on IRC or other places, and got instant feedback and help when we needed it. We’d put ideas into chat and discuss them readily and sometimes excessively. We weren’t anywhere near each other, specifically we were about 1400+ miles from each other in different time zones. But it worked and it worked damn well!
My correlations in trying to figure out, should employees be in office or out of office could go on. As Eric said when we all returned form the coffee shop, “correlations do not show causation, but they sure as hell imply it“. Well, I didn’t want to just imply onsite or remote work is better I wanted to know what really works or doesn’t. More thinking ensued and then…
Freedom Punched Me In The Face
Then it hit me. Geographic location doesn’t make any difference. The difference, which also makes Yahoo’s demand for no more remote working, is again the freedom of the individuals involved. The freedom to work where we are needed with who we ought to and need to and when we are most efficient and capable of performing the work best. The key is this freedom is granted, and that driven self organizing individuals make use of this freedom. It may be that one day we might end up in the office while another day we end up in a park, at home or in some coffee shop.
So forget remote working or in office working. These things aren’t correlated to someone being productive or not, the core reasons someone is productive is the ability that they have the freedom to be productive in the way that best works for them and for the company they’re providing services for. The most important thing is being able to give freedom to those doing the work to be productive. Remote or not is pure distraction and in turn is bullshit.
Don’t get distracted by the remote or onsite worker debate, figure out the best ways to work with your employees based on individual freedom. You’ll have far more productive individuals than any existing hierarchical corporate structure nonsense.