Recently the new CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, made an interesting decision. She rescinded the company’s almost wide-open policy about working from home (click HERE for details). Whether it’s work hours, work location, choice of tools or dress, decisions like this should and do keep leaders awake at night. These cultural systems warrant careful consideration, particularly by those of us who have plunged off the entrepreneurial cliff at least partly motivated by the desire to reinvent and humanize the culture of our communities of work.
It’s been pretty clearly proven that most folks, particularly the people on what I call the “generative” side of the value chain (often called “creatives”), value the opportunity to work in their chosen field on good projects using cool tools with people they trust MORE than they value pure greed…the $$. More than that, people value their time and are tying to eliminate the “I have a work life and a separate personal life” dichotomy. In the face of this pervasive world-view and today’s realities about the need for multiple incomes in households, flexibility is an essential promise if you want to attract and retain smart, dedicated people in any enterprise. But the work also has to get done. More than that, it’s not a “company” much less than even more valuable thing a “culture” if it’s a casual assortment who float in and out and may or may not have any “skin in the game”. Now, in fairness, I have friends who have intentionally established the much-vaunted “virtual company” and made it work and more power to them, but I have doubts about that model applied widely. What to do then? My best guess is that the answer lies in a “bend but don’t break” strategy and a culture that values strong personal responsibility.
Flex-time instead of “vacation” and “sick” days? Yes, but ASK, don’t TELL. There is a big difference between the email that says “I’ll be out the week of the 17th” and one that says “I’d like to plan a vacation the week of the 17th. Everybody good with that?” The same applies to working from home: “I’ve got a lot of writing to do, I’m planning on working from home next Tuesday and Wednesday unless the team needs me here.” The other corollary is to make sure there is personal accountability and good judgment. If you’re working from home because you need to concentrate or you have to manage a family issue and want to stay productive, in my book it’s a no-brainer. If, on the other hand, you’re working from home because you’re frustrated with co-workers, you’re feeling “unloved”, or you just don’t want to be around the business, it’s an early warning sign that you may be beginning what one wise person I trust calls “organizational death”. In that case, home is the LAST place you should be.
We need to keep evolving systems for getting work done. Work is one of the highest expressions of being human and the supposed choice between having a job and having a life is a false one. Those of us who have been without it have experienced the vacuum in the soul that not having meaningful work creates. Making it more and more human and evolving our companies as ways to amplify and develop the people who work there is critical. But, the work still has to get done well and the community of work-the Company-needs to be real.