Wow, let me be the first to chime in. I have teams spread all over the globe and their effectiveness is not related to their place of work - whether remote, local, home or in an office.
It depends on each individual and their managers. Ideally of course having everyone at work face-face is preferred but I don't see working from home being a detriment to productivity.
For many engineers, the design process requires nothing more than a computer loaded with the proper design software. Arguably design can be done anywhere.
But debug, with real hardware, which may require specialized expensive equipment? For all sorts of Real Good Reasons, that should be done in the office.
Having said that -- sometimes design gets done best in close collaboration. The guy in the next cube may have a problem and he can just wander over to the other engineers and ask a question. Or folks can discuss issues in the break room. That's a lot easier than firing up a Skype session and hoping someone answers.
Don't forget that Yahoo! is an internet company whose primary business is selling advertising. They're not designing and shipping hardware to customers.
There certainly are portions of an engineer's job that benefit from personal collaboration and there are some projects that, by the nature of the project, effectively require it. But there are plenty times when the engineer's job entails simply being head-down and buried in a computer monitor.
If tele conferencing software and instant messaging are used effectively, much of the collaboration can easily take place remotely.
I do think that if telecommuting is being abused, it is more of a management and motivation issue. The team needs to be managed and motivated regardless of where it is and how dispersed it is.
Yes, there would be retaliation. My employer expects me to work in blocks of time less than 8 hours. I need to be able to view simulations that take more than 16 hours to complete and if I did not work from home the cadence would drop to a two day cycle. Having employees available 16 hours a day and only clocking 8 hours is a huge benefit to all parties involved. Office talk is way over rated.
Exactly! If a new edict came down that working from home was no longer allowed, then every project schedule would slip -- whether management would "allow" the reality of the slip to be acknowleged or not.
Probably every IC design or verification engineer has at some point set up automated emails from the tools that let him/her know that the simulation is finished, or the P&R job is finished or whatever.
If that email comes while you're still awake, you have some motivation to jump on the broadband VPN from your home office and get a look at the results. If something went wrong, you can make a tweak and re-start the job right there -- getting a huge leg up on the next work day, compared to coming in the office in the morning and finding a big "oh no!".
Agreed that being able to VPN from home to take care of short duration, long-lead tasks such as this is invaluable, but I don't think this is the definition of "working from home" that's being discussed here. I can't imagine why an employer would not allow VPN access to their employees.
My point was that the office-vs-home lines are easily blurred when we're able to connect at any time day or night, and the overriding concern should be that the work gets done correctly and on schedule -- wherever the work gets performed.
Sometimes that "tweak" I mentioned might turn into a multi-hour deal, but if you happen to be focused on the problem at that time, head down and in the zone, then perhaps that is the best time to do it. When you finally get things working and notice that the clock says 3 a.m., maybe you send an email status update and say "see you at lunch time, I need to get some sleep."
Not every engineering task is most efficiently done in cubicle land -- at least not in every instance -- in between meetings and other office distractions. Of course it depends on the environment at home too.
We do need to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other, but sometimes we also need peace & quiet to concentrate, to drill down until a problem is solved. Sometimes the quiet & comfort of home is more conducive to that concentration than the office environment.
Arbitrary decisions, made by people who find themselves in a position of power, is infuriating to me. It doesn't matter if they generate some catchy slogan to justify their decision.
I have worked from an office almost exclusively for my entire career. However, the engineers I collaborate with daily are all over the US, and often beyond the US. So this notion that "the team" has to be collected in one geographical location sounds way outdated. Most of the time by far, I am not in the same room or office as those I'm working with.
Sure, there are times when it would be more convenient to stroll in the office next door and have a chat. But overall, a whole lot more work gets accomplished when team members aren't tied to a physical co-location and a strict schedule. So you accept the compromise because you see the overarching benefits.
I love working from home, and like Rick, I strongly feel that this arrangement is good for both me and my employer (which is the same as Rick's). While we work on the same team, our individual contributions are solo projects. But I imagine it's very different depending on the type of work. The suitability of different types of engineering jobs to working at home is probably varied.
Dylan & Rick: I would say give employees both options! Make 1 to 3 days a week mandatory at office if group discussions with colleagues improves innovation (as Yahoo's CEO claims). I can vouch for those who work at home (honestly!) end up working more hours!
Of course, where you need to use some specific technical equipment is very hard to work from home.
But when I'm stuck at some problem, I need to work in my own house, where I feel comfortable.
Unfortunately, some employers have never done any technical work and don't understand the stress level an engineer can reach from time to time.
Just an example: last week I had to finish an embedded system which deadline was about to be surpassed. I had spent all weekend working at home and on monday I phoned my office and tried to explain the situation: the work was almost done, the stress was too high and by moving to the office the project was surely going to be delayed. But the boss didn't understand the problem...
There are times when working from home is very much dependent on the type of work you do. For instance, as an applications engineer, I could work on product specifications, layout circuit boards, or write application notes in the comfort of my home and avoid the hour plus commute.
I work at a remote site for a global company and we have team meetings with other remote sites in Asia and Europe. These usually happen before 8am or after 5pm several days a week. Many times I will call into the meeting from home, especially if it's early in the morning.
However, there are times when I have to be in the office. Evaluating a new hardware design or a customer issue requires access to equipment and other tools. Since I don't have a temperature chamber or $300K worth of specialized test equipment in my garage, the only option is to work in the office. Also, having someone else around when troubleshooting can be helpful.
A couple people here have dismissed the value of office talk. I find that having other engineer's around to brainstorm or help solve a problem is invaluable. I've never met an engineer who didn't benefit from having peers around to bounce ideas off of.
In fairness to Marissa Mayer, she is just doing what she thinks is the right thing for Yahoo today. Tomorrow she may change her mind. I think people are reading way too much into her decision as an indictment of telecommuting in general, which I don't think is correct. I think she is just trying to spur innovation at Yahoo by having people exposed to the sort of random face to face incounters that may spark original thoughts and chance collaborations. These interactions can't happen if these people are working from home. I have seen good ideas emerge from discussions in the company cafeteria from a group of engineers just sitting around "shooting the breeze" over lunch.
As soon as you said "... random face to face encounters that may spark original thoughts and chance collaborations" I realized I just read the same intention exactly in this article about Google's new campus design:
Some tasks lend themselves well to remote execution, other tasks require or at least are much more efficient with physical interaction. Some people do well with it, I would not. I am easily distracted (by other more interesting things to do) so being at home would make it hard for me to get work done. Like many things, the answer is, "It depends."
I have been working from a (detached) home office
for 12 years and would just find another gig if
somebody decided I had to occupy a cubicle. Cubes
are one of the seven signs, that your management
is Satan's spawn.
There are phases of my software engineering work that could easily be done at home, but part of our work place paradigm is that us engineers are always on the hook for production-floor problem-solving any time that someone wants to walk over and bug us. It can really kill an otherwise-productive day. You can really get sucked into a problem dealing with hardware/software you've never seen before. Then of course discrepancies in documentation are discovered which have to get figured out and fixed, etc. It can be a real headache. Yet, the deadlines for our "normal" engineering tasks don't change no matter how much we've gotten sidetracked. There's no working at home for me with my current company. I would love to be able to do it at least once or twice a week just to save the 60-mile round trip through really annoying traffic which takes 1-1/2 hours away from me every work day. And then we're forced to take a whole hour for lunch, so we can't eat in our cubicles and only take 15 minutes for lunch so that we can leave earlier. We have to be here during fixed hours for "support".
Marissa Mayer is on track to discover that she needs to work from home more than she thought. Just give it 4 years or so. You can get baby sitters for your kids any time but not for soccer games, school award ceremonies and other such things that require a parent's physical presence. You may not understand if you're just starting a family or being single. There isn't enough paid time off that an average employee gets to deal with family commitments, errands and doctor appointments. I think as soon as you become an executive or a manager you become apathetic to the needs of others. Look at Yahoo's quality, too much email spam, junk news stories and almost no innovation. Folks in China, Japan, Yahoo upper management and the dictatorships do not understand that innovation is a product of creativity and creativity comes from a free mind. Stress and management pressures results in finding ways out.
To some people, working from home might actually make them work extremely hard and long hours. The reason is simple. They may feel they need to show higher productivity.
On the other hands, to some other people, working from home might actually undermine their ability to product. The distraction around the house might be one of the many factors.
To be able to work from home effectively, the team has to conquer the communication barrier. More emails and more Skype call will help. The person has to have discipline to resist any kind of distraction and focus on their work for a reasonable period. The project managers have to plan properly and to stick to their schedule instead of constantly demanding output from the people. As long as the task is finished accordingly, the project managers shall never bother the engineers too much too soon.
I believe telecommuting is good to some employees and some companies. I have not much doubt that it will become the way of life in the future. In the meantime, the team and the team leader shall learn what work best to the company.
Most days I get fed better at work than at home. Plus My work depends on me using hundreds of thousands of dollars of network analyzers, spectrum analyzers and other specilized RF equipment along with radio and antenna designs of all frequencies ranges and sizes.
Testing new radio and antenna designs on the bench and in aircraft along with the need for interfacing with manufacturing in person makes working at work the only choice.
Did I mention the food?
At the (hardware) company I work at, the only people who truly work from home are our remote sales staff. Everyone else is required to come into the office (with the exception of the occasional "cable guy" situation). All employees have access to VPN at home/mobile so they remain "plugged in" to some extent after they leave, but aren't necessarily expected to check email frequently when not on site. (Although this is encouraged and informally expected, especially during critical projects/schedules)
As with every company, needing to react quickly is important. I find that, in important situations, being able to walk over to an office and "corner" someone - i.e. be able to speak to them verbally, or call them over to look at a problem immediately is invaluable. It's sometimes frustrating working with our remote sales staff as they frequently drop "off the grid" i.e. don't answer their phone/IM/email for periods of time, and you don't have the luxury of "cornering" them.
Also there's the obvious fact that hardware engineers need to have their hands on hardware, temperature chambers, test equipment, inventory, etc, which precludes from working at home.
Last, as someone with young (not school age) children, I can tell you that it's very difficult to work from home as there are many distractions. Try telling a 2 year old that they need to put their tantrum on hold while you take a phone call.
I have worked at home and in the office. I can say that working from home enables a lot of concentration on the tasks at hand, but being in the office allows for better communication and coordination with coworkers.. it is a trade off and a balance must be found.
Yes, I agree! There are days that I can't get a thing done in the office because I am being asked to help on other projects, so I will go home and work. Actually I go to the coffee shop because when I go home, I have those distractions as well.
It is a balance for sure. This is why flex time is so important. There are days I NEED to be in office, but other days I don't and can be more effective out of the office.
I feel it all depends on the manager and a strict policy. If you work from home (once in a while) declaring your goals regarding completion of work for the day and agreeable to manager then it is good for me.
The real thing about working from home is that the environment has to right - so for me a seperate area away from the normal home activitities ( shed in the garden), everyone in the house aware that the area is a place of work (especially the children).
Can't do it with a laptop in the living room surrounded by life.
Don't you think we have a bigger obligation to mother nature to reduce greenhouse gases? If we care about job and nature, it makes sense to be efficient both ways.
This argument is like doing theoretical physics and mathematics. They are co-ordinate independent. All you need is computers, books and some communications.
If yahoo is building something or fixing a drain valve, yeah..you need to go there..otherwise why?
It all depends on how you manage the WAH program. In Yahoo's case it have been completely mismanaged with employees not showing up on the campus for years and having very poor performance. When you get paid to work at home, you better perform. Once the deadwood has been cleaned out at Yahoo, I'm pretty sure the policy will change.
It's all well and good to chime in on what you think but at the end of the day you are not running Yahoo. All of these comments should keep in mind that our opinion of what another company should and should not do is just our opinion. Maybe Yahoo just got tired of the down side to having employees telecommute.
I am a Fellow level engineer. I walk through the office asking how things are going and giving advice how to tackle issues. 15 Minutes of my time can give a huge efficiency boost. I could not do this from home or when my collegues are at home.
This informal way of working requires physical presence.
I do attend many conference calls in various time zones but those are hardly ever as effective as face to face meetings.
Mayer knows what she is doing. She needs to make Yahoo perform and improved productivity is one of her goals. Perhaps a reduction of number of employees is another. But they need to be selective or they could lose some valuable people who might just go over to a competitor.
Yes, that would be my conclusion too. You force everyone back to the old way of doing business, you might just lose as many productive people, at least, as you will be driving away the deadwood.
If it were me, I'd seriously consider moving on to greener pastures. (Of course, she might just want to get rid of me, so that's perhaps not a relevant point.)
In reality, it is the deadwood that will tolerate those kind of policies. It's a great way to concentrate deadwood corporate robots and eject the creatives. But trust me, at one second after 5pm they'll be in the parking lot with their cellphone powered off.
I have done a lot of engineering at home, and that part works well. BUT some parts of the development effort do work much better in a personal collaborative environment. But that may be only aan hour or two out of the whole project development time. Of course, thatnis in the area of industrial testing machines, which is a whole lot different than creating microcontrollers for internet enabled toasters. So really, much of the design engineering is easy to do at home, all of the debug and startup needs to be done where the hardware is accessable, and the concept development part does need a team effort.
Working in "the office" while writing software equals distractions every 45 minutes followed by at least 15 minutes to recover flow. Banning remote access sounds like an excuse for bad management. This is such a hypocritical move given Yahoo's history of offshoring engineering work. "Ah, you can't work at home... but you can work in India." Let's be honest, *if* Yahoo employees were motivated to innovate and they felt they *needed* to be in the office in order to accomplish that, they'd be in the office when it was most effective. We are dealing with adults here. This entire dictate reeks of bad, short-sighted, dilbertesqe management. I can pretty confidently predict that this will do nothing, nada, zero to fix Yahoo's innovation problems.
How about some real fixes. Number one, start by firing all your B and C players along with pretty much all middle management. Two, create strong non-perverse merit based incentives for employees to be individually driven to ambitiously pursue innovative product concepts. Three, lets see top executive management make some real sacrifices (in their pay and incentives especially), roll up their sleeves and get dirty for the long term game, and while they are at it they can take a blood oath to either succeed or fall on their sword. That's called real leadership. Something they appear to be completely lacking.
I've further read that the or one of the main justifications Marissa Mayer used was that according to the VPN logs, a lot of the work at home folks weren't logging in very often or at all. The supposition was that if they weren't logging in, they weren't working.
There is some merit to that. While there have been times when I haven't checked email or anything all day while working at home, I generally do so several times a day. It likely was a case of, based on the type of work being done and the expected pattern of connected time, that it really looked like a a lot of people were abusing the system.
There are a few people that will abuse a system anytime they can get away with it. I think those people are the exception rather than the rule, but there are a lot more people that would end up slacking off if they didn't feel that the company cared or that their contribution did any good.
Work at home is best left to each individual to decide or manage for themselves. Dictates from management that work must be done a certain way usually reduce productivity. Fortunately my employer has a flexible work-at-home policy. It makes the small cubicles a little more tolerable. Most people are in the office every day anyway, but having the option makes a big difference in managing one's own work schedule and environment.
Collaboration is good, but often overrated. Those "random" interactions can quickly turn into a productivity-killing series of unwanted interruptions.
I have noticed that younger workers prefer the open, collaborative environment a little more. Maybe having less experience means you depend more on being able to immediately call on the guy in the next cube to help solve a problem, whereas more experienced workers have less need for this.
And by the way, Rick.. your employer only gives you 12 square feet of cube space? I hope that is a mistake, because that is ridiculously small, barely larger than a phone booth! I consider our cubes to be rather small at 64 square feet. I'd have to quickly find alternate working arrangements if somebody tried to squeeze me into a 12 sq foot cube five days a week.