Friday, March 1, 2013

Face time

As many of you are aware Yahoo!has a new policy, requiring staff to work in the office – no more telecommuting. Like many, I thought at first that this was a big step backward for the company. It didn’t make sense that a high-tech company wouldn’t allow its high-tech employees to utilize that technology to work remotely.

However, after reading the reasoning behind the policy shift, and reflecting on my own desire to be physically present at work when possible, I understood the logic. While telecommuters may be more productive and better able to balance work and home responsibilities, face-time fosters collaboration and innovation. If you want creativity and original ideas, you don’t want your staff working at home all the time. Despite all the modes of communication available, there’s something about face-to-face conversations, and chance meetings and discussions, which get the creative juices flowing. If Yahoo! wants to be a leader in innovation, this is a wise move.

Admittedly, not all development groups are able to work together physically all of the time. And not all development groups need to be fully focused on innovation and creativity. When at least 80% of our communication is provided through non-verbal channels (such as eye movement, posture, hand gestures, facial expressions), it’s easy to see why face-to-face communication is the preferred mode. The agile community feels this concept is important enough to include as a principle (“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”).  Teams will make decisions faster when they work out the issue in one room. Information flows easier when you can spin around in your chair to ask a question, or when a teammate can answer a question she overhears.

It seems possible to have the best of both worlds. The employee, their team, and the manager should be able to work out an arrangement that allows for time at home and time at the office. I recall a job where we had core hours identified (10-3), when meetings were held and people were expected to be in the office – that gave lots of time for morning and afternoon child pick-ups, dentist appointments, home repairs, etc. Expectations for being present one or two days a week may be an option as well.

Now, I find it humorous that I’m writing this the week I move to a client engagement that is fully remote. Granted, the work to be done doesn’t require a lot of creativity. The other consultant on the project and I have agreed that we should get together on a regular basis, just to make sure we communicate. Of course we can communicate by phone, email, IM, Google Hangout, Skype, etc. But without real face-time what will I miss when Scott tells me about a change in the form layout? Face-time is definitely important.

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