The Case for Collaboration
There is an interesting article in the New York Times this morning that I hope lots of people read — that means you Mr. Benioff. It’s a tale of a shoemaker’s kids going barefoot.
It seems that Yahoo, trying to breathe life back into a sclerotic organization, has cancelled its work from home policy and is now mandating all workers report to the office every day. Good luck with traffic at the bottom of Silicon Valley. The commute has just gotten worse.
The discussion covered in the article sounds like a low calorie beer commercial from the 1990’s. One side says we need people in the office every day to promote collaboration, creativity and innovation. The other says at home workers are more productive so leave us alone. Tastes great! Less filling!
Sometimes I wonder if our inability to compromise as a society stems from this simplistic Boolean logic in which there can only be two sides and by definition the side you oppose is wrong. It harkens back to the religious wars of the Middle Ages, but I digress.
But hold on; let’s tease this apart. Yahoo wants to ape Google’s culture and that’s understandable given that the 37-year-old CEO, Marissa Mayer, hails from there. That culture devotes less than 100 square feet to each employee and channels foot traffic to encourage human-to-human interaction, the better to cause serendipitous face-to-face meetings and things like collaboration and innovation.
That’s nice, even laudable, but in the twenty-first century, this new dictate seems a bit draconian. Hasn’t Yahoo ever heard of collaboration software? Social media? Chatter? Yammer? I realize Yahoo is in San Jose and Salesforce and Yammer and others are way up the coast in the big city but they could track these solutions down on…the Internet perhaps?
It is astounding that a company like Yahoo could be in such a situation and that it could be so ostensibly unaware of how this looks to share it with the world. While the issues of collaboration and innovation are the right ones for any company to chase, this solution only works for people reporting to the same building and there are only so many interactions you can prompt in a day.
Most importantly, there’s Dunbar’s number, which is the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom you can maintain a stable social relationship. Depending on the individual that number is between 150 and 220. Social media like collaboration software helps to extend Dunbar’s number for many people and it breaks down the barriers set by geography, something that companies with more than one building have to cope with. Collaboration tools make no distinction between collaboration with someone down the hall, across the country or half way around the world.
The beauty and importance of collaboration and social software is that they break the limitations of human contact so the only question for me is why isn’t Yahoo — a pioneering Internet company — publicizing its uptake (we hope) of this new technology instead of moaning about this policy from the last ice age?
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Great article Denis. I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw the irony in this situation.
Maybe it’s actually a thinly disguised way to cull the workforce? I have to imagine that some of the folks will not be making the commute for very long before realizing what a grind it is.
Yes, I think so. Perhaps a way to cull some deadwood. But unfortunately, it’s an imprecise weapon that will cut live tissue as well. I would have instituted collaboration software first and discovered who was worth keeping in a new regime.