Does Yahoo's Marissa Mayer Have It Right?

Feb. 26, 2013
A workplace communications expert votes for the value of social connection in the workplace.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has drawn plenty of flack for a decision to require Yahoo employees to cut down on telecommuting and work from the office. Critics say it will lead to lower productivity and morale, and potentially drive some talent from the company.

But Ben Waber, PhD, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, argues that working on site is more productive and Yahoo has it right.

"There's a big difference between telecommuting occasionally and working from home every day of the year,” says Waber, author of the forthcoming book, "People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work" (FT Press, May 2013). “Occasional telecommuting allows people to deal with one-time events and promotes a less stressful work environment. Remote work, however, means that you lack a social connection to your colleagues. In general, this relates to lower job satisfaction for the entire company, higher turnover, and lower productivity.”

A visiting scientist at the MIT Media Lab, Waber's research uses sensor and digital communication data to track and better understand how employees work and collaborate.

"There are many long term benefits of co-location,” Waber says. “Bumping into people in the hallway can create new connections that lead to new ideas. By getting to know your colleagues better, you can also find better ways to communicate with them and support them if they have personal problems.

"Particularly relevant to Yahoo, in data from a software company we found that remote programming groups were 8% less likely than co-located groups to communicate about critical software dependencies."

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