Open Office concept vs. Working from Home

Posted by on March 19th, 2013

Recently the new CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo employees from working at home.  This has struck up a very interesting conversation in the media and companies around the country about the value of being in an office environment.  Even in my household the benefits of working at home are a common topic as my wife sometimes works from home on Fridays and would cherish the opportunity to do so more often.

At the root of the argument is the value of collaboration in the workplace.  Collaboration is something that has made many companies in Silicon Valley successful, and those companies have led a revolution in office design with open office concepts now prevalent in offices from New York to San Francisco (including KCSA’s NY office).  In my opinion, the idea of working from home flies in the face of what an open office concept tries to accomplish in terms of collaboration. So I find it difficult to envision a “working from home” corporate culture to be successful in an industry that relies heavily on collaboration among co-workers, including the tech industry and even the PR industry.

In the world of IR and PR, collaboration is a very important part of our success as a firm and as individuals.  The ability to casually be drawn into a conversation where a co-worker might believe you are able to offer specific insight, is not something easily replicated in a “work from home” environment.  I’m not saying a person at home couldn’t jump on a phone call if needed or respond to an email; however, it wouldn’t be as casual of an occurrence as what is experienced in the office.  The ability to let ideas or counsel flow freely between colleagues as they walk down the hall, pass in the kitchen, or grab lunch together isn’t possible from your desk at home.  Furthermore, the mentoring of less experienced colleagues by the partners of our firm occurs much more frequently because everyone is working side-by-side.

I often hear fellow KCSA’ers say they get so much more work done at home because there are no distractions or because they saved time by not commuting, and that may be true.  However, I believe they only see benefits because of two reasons:

1.) They work from home so sparingly; there is no loss of collaboration at the office

2.) Collaboration isn’t something that you necessarily miss immediately, so they only recognize its loss when they fail to see the benefits.

Remember, collaboration isn’t just to your benefit; it might be to the benefit of others.  So while the person at home is getting a ton of work done because there are no “distractions”, their colleagues are not benefiting from their counsel and therefore aren’t providing the quality of work expected by the company or its customers.

The point that I believe is missing from the argument to work from home is that it all depends on the job.  At the end of the day, the specific requirements of a job should determine if a person can work from home 1 day a week, 5 days a week, or not at all.

Plus, if we didn’t come into the office, we wouldn’t be able to go to Wolfgang’s after work.