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To Office or To Home: Is that the question?

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To Office or To Home: Is that the question?

Many news reports have picked apart Marissa Mayer’s decision to rescind Yahoo!’s work-from-home policy and get her employees back in the office. She needs collaboration and innovation and wants her team together, as David Kelley likes to say, to make the magic happen.

The loudest reaction has been “How dare she?” although there is also a large “It’s about time” chorus. Yes, workers want choice and control over how and where they work. Yes, organizations need innovation – often spurred by collaboration- in order to succeed in a vastly competitive business environment.

But, are we asking the right question? Must it be one OR the other?

My good friend, John Hockenberry, recently shared his perspective in an issue of Metropolis magazine where he says “Mayer is Right,” and he includes some of my thoughts.

I’d like to expand on that a bit. I do believe the office is here to stay, and not only because I lead Steelcase. The truth is, the office is changing in ways that may render it unidentifiable by today’s standards at some point in the future. But, we’re talking about now.

Historically the fixed nature of the phone and the computer forced people to report to a location – the office – where their technology networks were docked. Now, with the nature of mobile computing/telephony, we see pressures on the design of our existing spaces and systems. 

As innocuous as it seems, the question of whether someone comes into work or not is a (not so weak) signal of how these forces are aligning.  What we’re finding is that as workers fully enjoy mobility, the nature of why spaces exist becomes a more intense statement of how the spaces engage and augment human performance.

To that end, the office does deliver capability that you can’t easily distribute to individual homes. Notions like ethos, or the character of the company, also emanate from these spaces.

I often point to this irony:  Regardless of one’s religion or faith, all of them employ the concept of prayer. Let’s label this as a mobile or wireless aspect of religion.  Yet, masses of people still choose to gather in churches, synagogues, temples, etc.  Why, we might ask, if they can pray from anywhere?

The answer lies in the desire for humans to be together and the good that comes from this.


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