Years ago, on the legal beat at The Miami Herald, I often collaborated with other reporters and editors in the newsroom who weighed in on my story ideas and worked side by side to move a project in a bigger, better direction. Now that I work at home, I miss the back-and-forth banter than can lead to ramped up creativity. and I can understand why companies are taking strong measures to step up collaboration.
Today, the buzz word in business is collaboration, the 21st century driver of innovation and the inspiration behind corporate decision making. The focus on collaboration has led Burger King to take down the walls between its cubicles. It triggered Yahoo’s announcement last week to bring remote workers back to the office. And in October, Apple even attributed executive management changes to a need to encourage more collaboration between the company’s hardware, software and services teams.
This intensified push for face-to-face interaction and information sharing comes at a time when workers are pushing for flexibility, begging the question: Can a collaborative culture be created without impeding work/life balance?
In a bold move last week, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer argued in a memo banning remote working that collaboration happens when people are working side-by-side. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together."
The backlash against Mayer’s banning of telecommuting work was swift and angry. Telecommuting and work/life advocates worried aloud that Mayer was attempting to reverse flexible workplace advances. Outspoken CEO Richard Branson called her decision “a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
But can anyone really argue that Mayer is wrong to feel that there is value in the conversations that arise when people are physically together in a room? There’s a reason that Google has configured its offices with a lunch room extraordinaire. It’s to keep people on campus and working together.
Most workplace experts believe the best practices in collaboration strike a happy medium — allowing workers to come to the office some of the time but also manage their own schedules.
Prerna Gupta, chief product officer at Smule, a music app developer, has come up with her ideal solution, which she recently explained in the New York Times. She believes employees should have the flexibility and proper tools to work when and where they want but that the office should remain a gathering place to communicate ideas. After Smule bought her company, Khush, she pushed for the same schedule she had previously instituted; employees come to the office three days a week for five hours, starting at noon, allowing for collaboration. The rest of the week they work from wherever they want.
Attorney Ronald Kammer, who manages the Miami office of law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson, says employers have no choice but to find middle ground if they want to keep top talent. “Banning flexibility could lead to losing brain power.”
In law, Kammer has found firms have to be nimble to keep their talented attorneys and most allow myriad flexible arrangements — including working on occasion from vacation homes. Firms also must adopt the right technology to work with legal teams spread across the country. “Clients want the best legal minds working together,” he says. “They don’t care if they’re doing that from the same office or remotely.”