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Why Work at Work?

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, recently created a fuss by issuing an edict that forbids anyone at the company to work from home. But she was right: the physical interactions of a workplace foster an organizational culture that boosts creativity.

PHUKET – Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, recently created a fuss by issuing an edict that forbids anyone at the company to work from home. Mayer’s demarche received a lot of press coverage, probably more than it deserved. That may not be so surprising: she is a woman, and she allegedly has a nursery for her baby next door to her office. Above all, people seemed to react to the categorical nature of her decision (why everyone?) and to the irony that Yahoo! is a tech company (don’t they know about Skype?).

I think that Mayer made the right decision, and I am sure that over time exceptions to her order will be allowed at managers’ discretion. But, until now, the “right” to work at home was sacrosanct at Yahoo!, something that an employee’s manager could not overrule. And, by all accounts, enough people at Yahoo! were not working, either from home or from more interesting places, that it had become a serious problem.

Beyond that, Mayer’s edict makes more sense as a means of cultural change within a business than it does as a way to improve any particular individual’s productivity. Almost precisely because working remotely is easy, the advantage that a workplace has over a collection of home workers – or a set of outsourced workers assembled through Task Rabbit – is that people can accomplish more in a setting that provides a common culture and the benefit of serendipitous connections.

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