Earlier this year Yahoo! caused an online storm when they requested that all employees come into the office to work. The request effectively banned employees from working at home, with the belief that if employees are together in a physical environment they will innovate and collaborate more effectively. Of course cynics argued that the move was made simply to enable managers to monitor employees more effectively.
Putting aside the suggestion that collaboration can, and does, happen virtually and therefore you don’t need to be in physical proximity with colleagues to innovate with them, what can be done to encourage people to come in more often? After all, there’s a reason people like to work flexible hours or from home, and it really isn’t because they’re lazy and think they can slack off better at home.
A Californian company called Imo have come up with an innovative idea. They believe that the commute to work is a major problem for both employer and employee. It hurts employers because it takes time out of the day that could be spent doing productive things (home workers have been shown to do more work for instance than their office based colleagues because they don’t have the commute to negotiate). Employees get less time stuck in traffic or on public transport when they could be spending it doing things they enjoy doing. This reduction in stress should benefit both parties.
What Imo did was offered a financial incentive for employees to live closer to work. Each employee was offered a not insignificant $500 a month if they lived within 5 miles of the Imo office. Thus far over 90% of the companies employees have taken up the offer and moved closer to the office.
The company found some unexpected benefits from the experiment. For instance employees are now more likely to live in the same neighbourhood as each other, so not only are they working together, but increasingly they socialise together and are developing deeper bonds than might have been the case if they only interacted during work hours.
It’s also helping employees with their work-life balance, as they can now do more personal chores during their lunchbreak, not to mention giving health benefits as the short commute means many now walk or cycle to work.
It seems unlikely that Yahoo would adopt anything so radical, but it does provide an interesting insight into the benefits that can be achieved when you eradicate the commute from peoples professional lives.