Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Telecommuting, Yahoo!-style

It is fair and easy to suggest that the whole Marissa Mayer incident at Yahoo! regarding telecommuting has touched a nerve about when, where and how we work.  Yahoo! has turned our attention to Telecommuting!

On the one hand, cool campuses have become du rigour for knowledge work.  For example, the New York Times recently ran a piece on Google's cool New York digs, which is an extension of Google's now famous reputation for being a great, physically attractive place to work.  The article reports that, "Craig Nevill-Manning, a New Zealand native and Google’s engineering director in Manhattan, was the impetus behind the company’s decision to hire a cadre of engineers in New York, and he led an exodus to Chelsea from what was a small outpost near Times Square. “I lobbied for this building,” he told me. “I love the neighborhood. You can live across the street. There are bars and restaurants.”  

Beginning with HP and Apple, and emulated by just about everyone, tech campuses are now legendary for their attractiveness and presumably their productivity as places to work.  Indeed, the benefits of Google culture is what Marissa Mayer no doubt wanted for Yahoo!

On the other hand, there are sensible alternatives to fighting traffic, contributing to global warming and generally giving up hours every day in non-productive commuting. For a summary of the benefits of teleworking, see the Minute MBA video on 'Why telecommuting is good for you and business,' developed by Amy Clark and colleagues at  Here is their informed take on the situation.

"Here are a handful of the benefits Yahoo will be missing out on by disallowing telecommuting:

1) Increased Productivity: One Stanford study shows call center employees increased their productivity 13% when allowed to work from home. A study from University of Texas Austin shows telecommuters work 5-7 hours more than their in-office counterparts. While it’s easy to think there are too many distractions for employees working from home, the truth is quite the contrary.

2) Reduced Turnover: The cost of turnover is relative to each company – but always considerable. By allowing telecommuting, employees will be happier and therefore less likely to quit. Studies show 73% of telecommuters reporting being happy with their employer compared to just 64% of commuters. Allowing employees to telecommute isn’t just about working in pajamas – it shows employees that their manager’s trust them, boosting esteem and motivation.

3) Improved Morale, Reduce Stress: Americans hate driving to work, and telecommuting reduces employees need to spend money on expensive clothes, fuel, and more. Plus, there is less stress in preparing for a day of work from home. A study from Pennsylvania State University shows telecommuters are regularly less stressed and happier than people working in office.

4) Saving the World: Alright, saving the world is a tall order, but the Consumer Electronics Association did a study that showed telecommuting saves enough energy to power 1 million homes in the United States for an entire year, making telecommuting just another way businesses can reduce their carbon footprint."  Source: Amy Clark,

Teleworking has been a technical option for decades, but the social and managerial resistance to it is still palpable. And that is where Yahoo!'s decision to herd their cats into a single corral has met with a mixture of disbelief and considerable conversation, not least of all because the flexibility offered by telecommuting can be extremely important to working women. How could Marissa have done such a thing?  Harvard's Lakshmi Ramarajan has commented on Mayer's decision and articulates some ways the situation may have been avoided.  See her comments on the HBS blog.

What we need is more research on 'work' as opposed to organizations and management, wherein we understand the shifts in where, when and how work gets done in a digital age.  My other post about telecommuting.

Nathan Zeldes provides an excellent commentary on the Marissa Mayer Yahoo! situation, including his comparison on why telecommuting works at Intel and key questions to determine if and how to implement teleworking.

For more on why the issue of when and how to work seems to be cropping so much lately, see the recent Harvard blog on who should be responsible for time management.

Thanks for reading this.  Now, get back to work.  :-)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Minds for Sale

Hi all,

Yesterday my fantastic Executive MBA class and I were discussing crowdsourcing.  I had seen Paulo Goes earlier in the week talking about this phenomenon, i.e., collective 'intelligence' and super-cheap distributed work.

I have since discovered an entertaining, yet critical, talk that covers crowdsourcing, including optimistic and pessimistic or less optimistic scenarios about the buying and selling human work via ubiquitous computing networks.

"Minds for Sale" is well worth a look.  (Note, it runs over 50 minutes, so you might want to watch when you're at work, or supposed to be working.)  Jonathan Zittrain is from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society and author of The Future of the Internet and How We Can Stop it (Yale University Press).

Zittrain describes Amazon's Mechanical Turks and other less famous crowdsourcing sites and experiments, including paid product and service reviews for hire. See my post on the cult of rating, ranking and reviewing.


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Autonomy Paradox

Melissa Mazmanian, Wanda Orlikowski and JoAnne Yates have recently published a great paper on the use of smartphones by professionals.  Entitled 'The autonomy paradox: The implications of mobile email devices for knowledge professionals,' they find that contrary to the literature on autonomy at work, where loss of control is almost universally seen as a negative thing, work-extending technologies, like smartphones, paradoxically both provide flexibility and control over work (especially communication 'flow') and constricts one's ability to get away from work.

Mazmanian and colleagues find that, 'rather than feeling frustrated or trapped, they (knowledge professionals) report that using the mobile device offers them flexibility and capacity to perform their work, and it increases their sense of competence and being in control' (p. 2).  They go on to suggest,

'Our research offers insights into how the use of mobile technologies amplifies practices and capacities of communication, reinforcing professional norms on the one hand and shifting them on the other hand, to engender a new dynamic of continuous--and compulsive--connectivity' (p. 2).

'We identify how professionals rationalise their diminishing autonomy, framing this outcome not as an encroachment but as indispensable to helping them achieve flexibility and accountability in their work' (p. 2).

This is a very well-crafted and readable scholarly article, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the study of ubiquitous and work-extending technologies. It is based on a qualitative field study and as such has lots of great quotes about smartphone use by knowledge professionals.