I view remotes as a drain on the workplace and on my productivity, and I resent them for it. I've made the choice to live near my company's HQ, and make that damn commute every day, so that my workplace gets the best of me. Remotes have not, and I wonder if they get paid the same as me while they sit at home, and I view them as selfish.
The prospect of not having to tolerate remotes actually perks my interest in working at Yahoo.
The question is, if a company is able to pull off 'remotes' do you think this is a competitive advantage since coordinating this seems to be so hard for some companies? Is it a survival mechanism for companies that might not otherwise be able to happen locally?
Is a company like 37signals, stackoverflow early or others possible in an office or did they succeed longer because they were remote? How has all the research been done across the world and across oceans? What about multiple offices, does remote communication suck that way as well? Is everything done in your office or are there some outsourced parts?
Remote skills and virtual communication are a requirement today, companies unable to do this are missing out on competitive advantages. Companies that can perform well remotely also look at external factors more I have found, offices get an internal sickness. I think a mix is probably best but a company must be able to operate remote I believe today. Companies that can't write/read/coordinate enough to remote probably can't coordinate customer communication as well either (who are all remote in many cases), it is an organization culture thing. In the end how many times and people at your office do you actually need to meet up with on a daily basis? Driving 1 hour both ways for 15 minutes of face time sometimes.
All this means for Yahoo is they are going to miss out on workers and engineers located outside of SF or a 'remote' office, the bet is being in the same place will beat out the pool of developers farther than 100 miles from a Yahoo office. And it sucks when that good engineer or employee has to move that you've invested in and knows or built successful products in the office...
Not the OP, but what I can say from my own experience is that people who work remotely are indeed seen by their co-workers as being "privileged" or "above the rest" etc. This might very well be an exaggeration, but the affect on morale and team-spirit is certainly there, especially during bad times.
To put it another way, let's say you just got into the office after a dreadful one-hour commute (by car, metro, doesn't really matter, we all experienced them), ready to drink your coffee when suddenly the server is down, or a crazy client is yelling on the phone at your sales-people who in turn yell at you, the IT dept. etc. What do you do then? You first curse the whole world for not allowing you to drink your morning coffee in peace and then proceed to quickly fix what needs fixing, you don't have time for opening bugs in the issue-tracker or skype-ing the guy who is tele-commuting and trying to explain to him what the hell just happened (by this point your boss might as well be asking passive-aggressively "do you know why this happened?", he's asking you who are on site not the guy who's tele-commuting). And so on and so forth, you just reason inside your head that none of this would have happened if you had had the same "privileges" as the guy who's tele-commuting.
Your anecdote actually seems to reinforce that for quality of life, remote working can be better. Same type of emergencies but communication has to happen during them, documentation, teamwork not throwing all out the window to fix a fire every two seconds. Yes they happen and rules can be broken to get sites running but overall places with constant fires need internal people. Places run like that aren't going to be successful anyways so blaming remote workers on that seems unfair. If the emergency happened after hours is your company setup to handle this remotely or are people driving in an hour to fix issues? (i.e. remote repos, access etc). Workplaces and teamwork are great but can suck in bad situations, at the office even more sometimes such as during emergencies but it has to be done. I like documented discussions and tasks/plans written out rather than just spoken. These tasks that are just spoken tend to change and are hard to track how long things actually take especially in emergency driven situations.
The modern office even with all the near proximity to others, people still IM, email, etc over face to face quite a bit to prevent interrupting flow states and barging in to fix some issue not related to your tasks that are due at the end of the day. And what about the people in the next building, are you walking over there or are you just IMing like you'd do to a remote worker. Location is almost irrelevant for well run teams.
That's a common situation. I've also seen remote workers get away with doing almost nothing while the co-located ones pick up the slack. I've seen remote working be used as a "reward" for some, and it's lack be a "punishment" for others.
Letting any of these situations happen is down to lousy management and leadership.
I do a heck of a lot of remote work myself - I see many advantages to doing so. But from what I've seen it's not a universal performance benefit.
I've seen smart, committed teams almost double their measured performance by deciding to co-locate to a single team room... even with all the skype video / IM / chat windows you could wish for open. There's a lot of ambient communication that happens in meatspace.
I really wouldn't be surprised if this turns out to be a really smart decision for Yahoo!.
The return on remote work is dependent on two things: the right people getting hired, and the managers making sure that work is being produced. Anyone left to their own devices is going to slack, unless they are invested emotionally in the job.
There's an old saying: Inspect what you expect. It holds true for office workers and remote workers. Both have the potential to slack or produce. The person in charge needs to measure what each person is producing, and perhaps Yahoo! is lacking a way to measure that right now.
Wasn't trying to imply that it would ;-)
However I'm less convince by many seem to be that it's a dumb decision.
Especially since, in my experience anyway, fixing those problems of engagement are much easier to do when everybody is in one place.
There is also a moderate amount of evidence (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5145358) that there is a performance hit with distributed teams regardless of other factors.
The person in charge needs to measure what each person is producing, and perhaps Yahoo! is lacking a way to measure that right now.
I disagree with the first bit. What folk need to measure is what the productivity of the team/group as a whole. Optimising for individual productivity will often hit global productivity.
It's all a little tiring if you ask me.
Because Yahoo is still respected enough to affect the decision making process at other companies.
And many of us want to see more flexibility and trust in our work life. Working remotely for many is more than just a "perk".
I think the biggest advantage of living in the Valley would be the ability to meet other people and establish connections. A worker should be paid mostly for the value that they provide to their company, not necessarily just their cost of living.
I don't think that anyone wants to undercut someone else in the industry. That's just a bad practice that hurts everyone in the end.
Getting a bunch of folks to jump before they're pushed is a great start. It reminds me of the two Bobs from office space: "we fixed the glitch... we tend to find it best to avoid confrontation".
There are plenty of rationalizations for both sides of this decision. I lean to the simplest explanation. They're happy to see folks go.
Yahoo: ~$280K profit per employee.
Google: ~$290K profit per employee (not including Motorola Mobility .
Microsoft: ~$180k profit per employee.
Apple: $590K profit per employee.
Apple being off the charts aside, broadly speaking Yahoo is right where they should be. This looks more like an attempt at culture change to me.
(That Apple figure is tremendous when you consider that 2/3rds of their employees work in the retail channel)
Hiring someone in sales helps you earn money, but I doubt a single cheerful apple-store worker brings in $500k in merchandise sales for that store.
I don't think that's happening. I think they're trying to use face time at the office to drive productivity & collaboration.
I mean people email every day do we need to get rid of that as well ?
Personally I never cared too much for a company culture. I don't join a company because of a culture. I join it because the projects are interesting, the money is good, the benefits are nice, etc...
I do feel the approach Yahoo is taking is bad for the company. I'm sure for some work it's good to be at work in the company offices, but for some other work a home environment works much better. In most companies I've worked I always got bothered by other employees, making it much harder to concentrate on tasks. Since june last year I started working with a friend on our start-up and I thrive much better in this environment. Now I work from home and the silence and serenity helps me achieve much better results. I should note I have no wife or kids, just 2 cats, so very little distraction there.
A company like Yahoo should realise that some employees will deliver much better results when giving them more freedom. One example could be Bill Atkinson, who delivered great work for Apple, yet did most of his work at home:
Once a business becomes huge there are other factors at play that may mean there are trade offs. For instance Bill Atkinson left apple in 1990, Similar to Woz. Great people for their time but not happy when it goes corporate.
Is that true in 2013? Are office workers in a tech company not judged by production?
It's absolutely true and nothing will ever change it. The fact is that likability and fun at the workplace can routinely trump the quality of the output. Especially if the manager is a permanent employee and they expect to spend their life at the company.
I work at a large company and have seen plenty of talented people sidelined and ignored exclusively because they were more introverted.
I believe that co-location forms a sort of prisoner's dilemma. If everyone is local, everyone benefits from increased collaboration, morale, etc. If one person is remote, they benefit more, while acting as a drain on the remainder of the team. And when everyone is remote, then everyone loses.
So you saved 15 minutes but cost your coworker 30. That's a net loss, and an argument for remote workers. When I interrupt people, I constantly have this calculation in mind.
In effect, the remote worker saved you from "acting as a drain on the remainder of the team," your post's main concern.
I am a remote worker, and routinely help coworkers with all shirts of stuff. It works best when everyone's remote.
I think she's drastically overestimating how easy it is to change jobs. There's also the fact that, Yahoo, as a large and well established firm, can offer things like generous insurance and retirement plans, which startups generally do not offer.
Managers boasted about laying off some of the best producers; I think the subtext was "If they're not safe, no one is".
Granted, this did kill the company (they got bought by Alcatel), and I know it killed the project I was working on when I left/was pushed out, something that was necessary for Lucent's survival (1/2 of the modern style telephone switch, what follows the 5ESS in their case).