Written by Jerry Newman – jerry.newman@creativeNPD.com
Jerry is a creative R&D business leader, entrepreneur and author. He has developed over 60 commercial products including medical products, chemical specialties and mobile apps. He is the originator of the CREATIVE culture model – www.creativeNPD.com.
Yahoo’s CEO has created quite a stir over the issue of working from home in high tech companies. Many Silicon Valley companies have liberal policies allowing workers freedom to work wherever they choose. This gives us a great opportunity to review the pros and cons of the issue in the context of creativity.
It appears to me that there are a number of potential barriers to creative collaboration in the business environment. None of these factors are bad in and of themselves but may require consideration to encourage effective collaboration. These factors include:
1) The myth of lone inventors (the perception that innovation comes mainly from Eureka moments and from individuals). 2) Protection of the company’s Intellectual Property. 3) Bad meetings. 4) Isolation from team members (including those who work from home). We want individuals to have freedom to work from home at times but with creative work (and what is not creative work today) we need to have effective face-to-face collaboration. We need tools to overcome the potential negatives of working from home.
An acquaintance of mine recently took a position as a Programmer at a major software company. He was excited at first because he would have the freedom to work from home. After being there for a while I noticed he wasn’t often taking advantage of the opportunity. I asked him about it and he said that he couldn’t work from home as effectively as at the office. So much of his work depended on collaboration and communication – he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to work with team members who could make his projects move faster.
This need for interaction is a truth that most high tech companies have grasped. They give flexibility to those who need be at home from time to time but encourage creative workers to work at the office by providing amenities at the workplace. The amenities may include services, food varieties and free drinks, including Starbucks coffee and the official drink of programmers everywhere – Mountain Dew. These are tools companies have found to encourage collaboration with a balance to freedom.
Communication tools are great but written communication has a high potential for misinterpretation. As we know many technical folks are not the best communicators. Even if the person at home is a good communicator, his/her coworkers may not be. Misinterpretation can lead to a considerable loss in productivity. Technology tools such as video conferencing are helpful but sometimes there’s no good substitute for face-to-face communication.
Another factor full time home workers come to realize is that it takes considerable self-discipline to work from home. Dogs, kids and other distractions such as home remodeling projects can be very distracting and reduce productivity.
Other acquaintances of mine have full-time work at home positions due to the nature of their positions. They have found tools to compensate for reduced opportunities for collaboration. But such positions do not suit everyone’s disposition or need for collaboration in their position.
The point is that while technology has given us considerable freedom to work from almost anywhere, the utopian concept of everyone working on a computer from home is probably not realistic – rather, the creative age will require ways to balance freedom to work from anywhere with effective collaboration. While it may not matter where the work is done, it may be considerably more effective in an environment that encourages collaboration and productivity.
The picture was taken from the Vitaver & Associates Blog about Present Trends in Telecommuting.