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Yahoo CEO Mayer is Right and Wrong About Her Remote Work Claims

Headset colorIn February 2013, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, sent a memo to her employees saying that working from home was not acceptable anymore, and all Yahoo’s remote workers would soon be expected to either relocate to the office or else quit their jobs. She said the main reason for this decision was that collaboration and communication are improved when people work together in the office, and when they can see each other face to face. Marissa Mayer was right.

She was also wrong. Plenty of research and case studies confirm that creative people who work remotely are on average more productive than their colleagues who work at the office. Marissa Mayer’s claim that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home” might have been true for herself, or for some of Yahoo’s employees, but in general this claim doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

The answer to the question, “Should people work from home or in the office?” is as always, “It depends.” People can be more creative on their own when they work remotely, but creativity is fruitless without a frequent gathering of minds and mixing of ideas. On the other hand, communication can be improved when people are collocated most of the time, but communication is useless without good productivity, which many people often best achieve alone. Somehow you must optimize both. Anyone who optimizes one over the other is missing the point.

The best approach for your organization is to find your own optimum. This includes instructing people to optimize both creativity and communication in ways they believe is best. It also means giving them the means for high-bandwidth communication across distances, in the form of Skype calls, Google hangouts, telepresence robots, and any other tools you can think of that include both audio and video.

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