When I started writing for The New York Times in 1998 I learned something profound from my editor, and it wasn’t an admonishment never to use the word “very.” He told me that email was a common way to communicate with the guy … at the desk across the room. Back then, I hadn’t worked in an office for years, and this stunned me. Why email when you could get out of your chair, get your question answered and have a quick chit-chat?
Since then, I have worked in and visited tons of offices –companies with 10 employees, 50 employees and employees numbering in the thousands. What I’m always struck by is the silence. That’s because many people who work in offices today don’t get out of their chairs if they don’t have to – they email, text and IM instead. Yes, to the guy in the cubicle next door.
So when Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting, citing innovation as a reason to get people back to campus, so to speak, it got me thinking. Banning telecommuting is treating the symptom, not the cause of the so-called innovation problem.
Innovation happens when different kinds of connections are made. Innovation can be fostered through a company culture that provides opportunities to think differently, not dictated as part of conversation over vegan lunches in the corporate cafeteria. Time needs to be allowed for off-task work and creative “free play.” Time needs to be given for trips and reading and yes, problem-solving. Meeting face-to-face isn’t the only criteria. As proof, just look at the modern, mostly silent office.
So Marissa, please rethink your policy and instead consider how Yahoo can forge a new way to innovate. Chaining employees to your campus only puts a Band-Aid on a larger issue. With the Yahoo brain power, I’m counting on you to help figure this one out.