First, let’s just stipulate that CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to decree the end of the work-at-home option for Yahoo employees as of June was, oh, excessively abrupt? Insensitive? Raw meat to a sharklike blogosphere? All of the above?
But there’s something refreshing about identifying real value in personal connections and even chance interactions that occur without the filter of an electronic device. Not just social value, but dollar value to a company.
Back in the 1990s, some Silicon Valley commentators thought by now offices would be obsolete and traffic jams would be history as tech workers toiled from home, communicating with colleagues efficiently online. Telecommuting is certainly more common, especially for moms and dads. Some tech companies encourage it. But how fascinating that the industry stars today — Google, Facebook, Apple — do the opposite, lavishing free meals and massages on employees to keep them at the office. And that struggling Yahoo now sees this as a competitive advantage it must somehow match — though the sudden mandate might not have been the best strategy.
The shift will be no surprise to product managers in valley companies that have offshored development work. Chance meetings in the hall used to nip problems in the bud or raise useful ideas. Now, with communication by prescheduled phone calls or video conferences across multiple time zones, the serendipity is gone. Not to mention the good night’s sleep.
We revel in our 24 / 7 digital connections. We e-mail, tweet, post our every move on Facebook, carefully create our circles on Google+. But friending someone isn’t the same as being a real friend. That takes a human touch. Often, so does creativity — which is why it turns out to be of value in tech.