...asking a choice few upper management types to stay at home, judging by a few decisions made in the last couple of years by people who are paid to know better.
Under-fire HP bosses have told staff who work from home that they're needed in the office, following the hardware giant's booting from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Although managers stopped short of demanding a full ban on telecommuting, staff were advised that they were needed in the office to help reverse HP's fortunes …
> the more employees we get into the office the better
Can't argue with that. There are two aspects to being a professional: doing the stuff youve been told to do and being a part of the company. The first can usually be done from anywhere and home working is a good solution for that. However, the second part does require human contact with colleagues. It is necessary for the chance meetings, the networking and the social interaction / bonding needed to turn a group of people into a team.
Having said that, in any company there will always be a proportion of employees who's biggest contribution to the success of the company is to shut the hell up and not touch anything. For these individuals, home working should not only be allowed, it should be mandatory.
Between open source software projects and my 8+ years of working on multi-national teams I'm not sure that I could possibly disagree with you more strongly on your second point than I do. There are definitely jobs that cannot be done remotely, but the tech sector has much fewer of these.
For a professional the tools have become ubiquitous. E-meetings, instant messaging, video conferencing, and even the good old telephone and email. I've worked with people from Ireland, the UK, India, China, and Japan (I'm in the mid-Atlantic US). The only difficulty was in dealing with increasing differences of timezone.
When I did work in the office, the drop by your cube meeting was to see if you wanted to go play foosball. If it was a work question it would be an instant message, even if it was from one aisle over.
A big part, possibly the biggest part, of working in a team is spreading the knowledge. For an individual, sitting in a darkened room hacking away, writing 1,000 lines per day (or whatever measure of productivity - if not quality - you employ) may well get the job done. However, as the AC below illustrates perfectly: that's all it does. You may well ask "but what more is there?" to which the reply would be: Spreading the knowledge. Growing the team. Letting others benefit from your specialities and you from theirs.
The ex-iBMer illustrates this perfectly. Sure, the immediate problem got fixed (in record time: respect is due). But that's all that happened. The knowledge was still locked away in one person's head - so the next time a similar problem crops up, there's still only 1 person who could deal with it.
That might be good in the short-term, but it's no way to build a knowledgable and cohesive team: one that will pull together, help each other out and generally be worth more than the sum of their parts. Some of that can be done electronically, but the unstructured, chance meetings and conversations can't. The "whatcha doin? -- hey that looks like something Fred was trying last week - You should go talk to ... they had a guy in with a solution to that " conversations don't happen when each "professional" is (metaphorically) locked away in their own little world. Likewise, people can't ask you for help - it's too easy to fob them off or ignore their emails. Professionalism is as much about the good of the team as delivering your own personal goals.
That's what working with other, similarly talented, people lets you do, that you can't do on your own. It's also something that not many companies recognise as having value.
"Spreading the knowledge. Growing the team. Letting others benefit from your specialities and you from theirs."
'Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice' is a phrase used by (some) academics to describe what you are talking about .
I think it may be possible to experience legitimate peripheral participation using electronic means in some cases. Chat/Forums/Bug reporting systems and the good old mailing list. IRC springs to mind for some kinds of community of practice (software libre projects). I hope so, I spent some years trying to create conditions where such things could develop online.
Face to face can be just as isolating as online by the way. Just try being
a) part time
b) working at odd times
c) 'hot-desking' in an office half a mile from the rest of your team (and I do shower often/change shirt daily/wear clean socks).
Being the ex-IBMer in question, I used the extra time to do a wiki write up on the code and bulked up some of the comments. I also led two of the Irish devs through similar issues a month later. IBM wasn't about to send me on a cross Atlantic trip to do that. The entire team collaborated constantly, mostly with Sametime group chats that only pulled in people who really needed to be involved. And that's the point, we didn't actually sit in darkened rooms at home and only send the occasional missive to let the world know we were alive. It's a weak dev that needs to be constantly sitting in the same room with someone to get the job done or to feel like part of a team. I've been on teams where it didn't matter that everyone was in the same room. There were those who hoarded their knowledge and those who didn't want to learn. It created a toxic atmosphere where the ones (like me) who were willing to teach and document finally decided to move to new teams.
A good team is about attitude and a willingness to work together and be professionals (document, share, tutor, be available, etc). If someone can't manage this with WAH, then management needs to take them to task. You want socializing, get the team together for a good meal or golfing. We did plenty of that. Even without that I felt I was pretty good friends with one of the devs in Ireland. The wife and I are planning a trip to Ireland next year. If we end up near where he lives, I plan to see if he can manage to meet us for a beer.
Unfortunately, sitting at the office may not have any impact on any of the problems some people are whining about. Being present at one of the company owned facilities doesn't mean that you will be anywhere near any of your teammates.
As a simple matter of auditing, most any communication of any importance needs to be done in a manner that allows the parties in question to be on opposite corners of the planet.
Forcing people to come to the office will solve none of the problems inherent in a large company that has scaled poorly because human groups scale poorly in general.
I think your point has merit, but for some jobs there's also a lot of merit in being able to control when and how interaction happens. A coder who gets interrupted by a coworker stopping by to tell him about the latest cat video loses a good 15-20 minutes of productivity, because he loses all the mental state he'd built up and has to start over. The typical modern open-plan office is a particularly poor environment for maintaining the concentration needed to write code.
I have both work-at-home days and office days. I generally use the office days for menial email-sorting type work and save the coding for the work-at-home days, when I can control my physical environment to minimize distractions.
I work in an almost all-email/telephone cube environment, and I have to say that only communicating by email when they could have just walked over and said it is ridiculous.
I don't like this trend very much at all. In fact, I've only seen my manager once in 10 months, because he's based in another state here in the US. Team meetings? Hah! Only one so far since I've started.
This "connected" method of working needs some changing. I like email, texting and all, but it makes for a poor way of creating a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
One word: Bollocks.
A good team does not need to hang by each others desk to know what's going on and have a sense of a team. Correct - human contact is important.
The key factor in maintaining human contact is to have the resources to ad-hoc meet when and where necessary, not to be "in a meeting 100% of the time". Working from home and meeting ad-hoc when needed is at least 10 times more productive than dragging everyone into a noisy, stuffy and counterproductive environment - AKA your typical open plan barn. Not that cubicle jungles are any better.
Yahoo (and HP) problem was not home-working. It was looking at home working as a cost saving measure and not providing any budget and resources for people to meet f2f whenever they needed to. So both Marissa and Meg knee-jerk reactions are simply failing to understand and address the problem.
Ah, yes. That'll stop the death spiral.
My final 4 years at IBM were work from home. Even though it wasn't supposed to be allowed, when they asked me to come back as a contractor my demand was I was WFH. My manager didn't even flinch on that. I was the one that they gave the difficult or time critical problems to.
I was always instantly reachable by phone or Sametime, unless I marked myself "do not disturb" because I was working on something that required complete concentration. The team was very upset when the contract wasn't renewed (manager even redirected some funds to keep me on for a few extra months).
The point is that, at least for developers, managing work from home folks is easy. Are they producing and what does the team have to say about their productivity. The team will sell out an under performer in a heart beat.
The downside is some managers will focus on commits/LoC/# of defects or features handled. Case in point: The project lead asked me to solve an issue in really old code no one on the team understood or wanted to go near. Two hours later I had examined the code structure, stepped the code in the debugger to verify that I understood it, fixed the one line, tested, and checked it in. The PL was amazed and said she'd need to figure out what she wanted me to do next because she'd figured it would take a couple of days.
If I'd have been told that I needed to drive a total of 50 minutes (round trip commute on a good traffic day) a day so that they could have a butt in a seat, I'd have started looking for a new company. When you're in a tough spot, you need to keep good people not drive them away.
The anti-WFH movement is a more subtle version of management-by-logo - the appearance of activity, not the reality of activity.
As you say, functional companies have no problem with real productivity. Some devs work better in an office, others work from home. If you can manage people and deadlines, you put people wherever they need to be to get the job done.
But of course everyone knows that real work means turning up to an office and putting the hours in, just so workers can prove they're under the thumb, and manudjment can prove they're in charge and running a tight ship, and all of that crap.
And if you waste two hours a day commuting and another two hours in pointless meetings, and if your actual productivity plummets, and if everyone is more stressed and less happy, and less and less real work is being done - at least it looks like work, and that's what matters.
Yep HP's problems are all due to the employees working from home and not their failure in markets that are actually growing as opposed to many of their core ones shrinking. Hard to explain to the millennials that The HP Way didn't used to mean a new CEO every year after the last one paid 10x too much buying some dying company.
> Cancelling WFH also screams "I don't trust my employees!",
It could equally mean "We made a mistake. We tried an experiment and it didn't produce the results we expected". Which *could* be a heartening sign that there is humility somewhere in the upper echelons.
It's also possible that the top brass *did* trust the employees (to do the work without supervision), but that the employees betrayed that trust and goofed around all the time, instead of working.
Heard once: you can work from home, but if you come back in with a suntan, you're fired.
>but that the employees betrayed that trust and goofed around all the time, instead of working.
That is an employee selection problem then and not a work policy problem. Not that I care. I personally would never want to work from home and having worked with some of their consultants and seen what they thought about the company wouldn't want to work for HP either.
I think it makes perfect sense, and improves productivity to bring three engineers back into the garage to interact with each other instead of staying home and meeting only in teleconferences.
On the other hand, I think it is unbelievably stupid to ask three engineers to come back into three different garages; one in Vancouver, one in Sunnyvale, and one in Houston and have them teleconference each other from office space rather than home. There is no synergy. There is no productivity multiplier. It's simply a waste of a time and money.
HP has spent years implementing 'right shore' and 'right cost' policies that have made them geographically diverse. You don't get that "one office" effect without having the full workgroup working in the same office.
Sorry Meg. In today's world, this is a dumbass idea.
and they would be mostly correct.
Where your colleagues are in the same office it makes sense to meet. It is often more productive to have informal communication. That isn't to say WFH isn't good every now and then, but as a rule, I suspect it isn't as good.
But this isn't the source of HP's woes.
HP has (or had) 300,000 employees world-wide.
Either they have a fscking big office or they will have to develop mechanisms to allow these people to work together without being in the same cube farm. If you can work together int he same company with people in Mumbai, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Palo Alto you should be able to manage North London.
Perhaps they could find a company with a background in some of this ITC stuff to advise them?
...to drive 50 minutes to Winnersh, hunt around for 20 minutes trying to find a free hot-desk. Sit amongst a group of people I have never met before, some of whom want to spend all their time talking about football, loudly. Unpack my laptop, plug in my data drive, discover the LAN port does not work, fight with the stupid wireless LAN implementation to get a connection. Read my mail, find I cannot stand the noise of the "footballer" faction another minute and pack everything up and find a quiet spot at the back of the canteen. By now I am in a really good frame of mind to start my day :-)
So the people who are completely and solely responsible for the share collapse are the ones criticising those who actually do something productive. The ones that can't do anything to make employees happy, just scare the good ones into leaving to go someplace where they might feel just the slightest bit appreciated and not fear for their livelyhood all day every day, THOSE bosses....
Sure, lets piss off those who are especially productive when they work from home and don't have the cubicle noise (if you're lucky enough not to suffer the horrendous stupidity of the newer "Open office" concept), or the minute by minute interruptions of the PA system, people who need to "converse" (Interrupt) with you, constant emails, phone calls, work tracking systems, general dickheads and fuckwads.
Yeah, those people that don't want you to work from home are the ones that have no work ethic unless someone is constantly watching them, they are the same ones that fucked up the company to begin with. They are the "pointy haired bosses" and Wally's that Dilbert makes fun of.
I worked from home long before it was fashionable (From 96 to 06) and brought in between one to two million in annual sales while doing it. But I also was doing twice the amount of work and calls that anyone else in the company was and I was HAPPIER DOING IT!
Yes, there were times when I dogged it but the times I was working while sick made up for it, I started at 7:00 am, ate lunch at my desk and finished at 5:30 most days.
Now I lose sleep because I have to get up early to be there, lose time with interruptions and I lose personal time driving home, lose money for gas, and lose productivity in general.
I'd have two issues here:
1) NO SPACE TO WORK!!! Really, HP started pushing "work from home" hard years ago (pre-Fiorina....) because they were selling off office space while expanding the work force. These people will be in there, with like 3 or 4 people vying for each desk and computer. This I'm sure will be MOST productive.... yeah. I'll stay out of the general argument for and against work from home pretty much. I think, personally, I find working from home fine, and furthermore think that I could get all the human interaction I'd ever want through chat sessions and speakerphone. But I know some people just NEED face-to-face.
2) Employees taking the downgrade personally? Sorry, but HP staff has executed just fine, it is HP management that has failed. (Honestly I think right now they are still on a slide because of Fiorina's extreme mismanagement, particularly her cutting R&D down to nothing -- which provides short term gains for a few years, but long term losses.)
It doesn't seem so long ago they wanted people to work from home to save the office space and running costs.
I can remember they wanted to close all the UK offices over the Christmas period for cost reasons and for staff to use their leave with only essentials WFH.
Didn't happen on my account...
HP's problems are largely down to Hurd's cut and burn mentality so limited R&D, constant direction changes (e.g. buying Palm and then ditching mobile devices), strange (3Com) or over-inflated purchases - EDS and Autonomy.
Long gone now, now a public servant in the NHS, who actually pay me more with less responsibility.
This is clearly a topic you feel strongly about and I agree with most you have written
WFH is not for all personality types or indeed types of work.
As you said in one of your posts the Football fans would feel isolated on WFH and it would drive them to endless IM chats or to leave the company. Many managers cannot effectively manage if they cannot count the widget production per head at the end of the day....
I have also WFH extensively since 2000 and find it useful as you say when you need to concentrate, crack a problem or write proposals but its not for everyone.
I also think that in some cases a team needs to be together to bond as a team and reach optimal performance. Now this does not mean permenant co-location does it does mean that the managers or leaders have a strategy that takes the team through the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing phases.
Otherwise I think you are spot on in terms of your assessment of these moves by HP and Yahoo.
...if HP management didn't make $19 BILLION dollar cock-ups on a regular basis.
It's OK though - HP Execs still keep getting their million $$ bonuses and salaries, so they are OK.
Welcome to the world of the 1% and fuck all the proles!
Under-fire HP bosses have told staff who work from home that they're needed in the office, following the hardware giant's booting from the Dow Jones Industrial Average [...] The missive stated: "During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck. We recognize that in the past, we may have asked certain employees to work from home for various reasons. We now need to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration and the more employees we get into the office the better company we will be.”
Yeah, like that's gonna help.
I don't want to get involved in the discussion of "team" in the 3rd thread (what was the 3rd thread at the time of this post), but, really, Meg...do you really think there is a positive correlation between having more bods at HQ and the presence or absence of HP on the shining status symbol of Wall St., the DJIA? Perhaps, were you to spend, oh...say 30 milliseconds or so thinking about it, you might discover that maybe...just maybe...there is a much better correlation between getting and maintianing your status-symbol position and, you know, actually producing products that customers might actually want to buy.
Meg Whitman, the poster child for Management Moronity
Really Folks ? Do you honestly believe HP wants to take you all back to their (currently limited, downsized) office space while the Company continues to struggle? Trust me - youre 'office space' will not be in some nice cushy Palo Alto HQ building, rubbing elbows with the brass. Their real strategy is to give employees an unwinnable choice - either take the 'available' office space they've targeted for you in Butthole, AK, or Shithole, SD (of course at an adjusted, lower salary rate). You're then asked to relocate there at your own expense. The catch is that if you decide not to move, then you agree to quit. Given Meg's non-stop 'Spin Machine', this is likely her only real strategy for revenue growth in 2014.
I started working from home when Oracle banned trash cans at your desk. It seems they're too broke to afford janitors emptying them, but they spun it for "green" reasons, of course. Since I am too busy (and too lazy) to walk all the way across the building to the kitchen bin that's always full anyway, I started catching shit for the coke cans and other stuff accumulating on my desk. At least at home I can make sure the trash is taken out.
Oracle's dropped sugar, straws, hot water, tea, and other things from the break room as well. This was even before their recent financials.
This is very funny -- I worked for HP in marketing then sales in the late 80s to mid 90s. In the 90s, HP was doing all it could to get us out of the offices and at home for them to save money. Everything at work became "hot desks" (remember that one?) and "temporary portals". Work out of your car, work out of the customer's site, anywhere but at a HP shop!
I've worked at home for several jobs and have always been more productive vs the office. You do need a certain discipline for working at home though.
I wonder what HP will sell to their customer seeing as they can not manage telecommuting. You can just image the HP rep wandering into an office trying to sell computers, networking equipment and telecommuting.
Customer staring at them with awe at the gall. One thing HP could never ever get away with is publicly admitting telecommuting is a bust.
Trying to copy the ex-googlite, seriously, (reality check falling revenue and rising profits driven by slashing the development and creativity base, Yahoo telecommuters only returned to the office to be quietly pink slipped one at a time).
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