Yahoo! boss has a point about 'remote' working

It may come across that I am rather cynical about the latest business and marketing trends. While this is not strictly true, it does help to create a good debate. Now I would like to extend this cynicism to the modern approach to team building and line management.

Secret Marketer

I was amused to read that Marissa Mayer, the relatively new chief executive at Yahoo!, is to implement a ban on staff working from home after 1 June. She explained her decision by saying: “To be one Yahoo! that starts by being physically together… communication and collaboration is important… and that is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices - some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.”

Mayer is going against the general trend - and recent surveys show most “knowledge workers” in the UK work from home for at least part of their week. Nevertheless, I think there is merit in her argument.

In the “good old days”, when putting a stamp on a piece of targeted marketing resulted in people actually worrying about where it was being sent, I could see all of my team from my desk.

If I wanted to know the latest position on a campaign, I could just wander over to my product manager’s desk. If I wanted to brainstorm a new proposition, I could summon a few members of the team into a room. Now, I have to ‘instant message’ them, or set up a webcast, or do something equally impersonal.

While I am a huge fan of modern technology, nothing is quite the same as seeing the whites of people’s eyes.

Marketing is a strategic science but it also requires creative empathy.

I am sure some business functions can be separated out into ‘shoeboxes’, just like typing pools.

However, if we are to retain that creativity and build strong, supportive teams that are closely aligned and which learn from one another, then co-location is critical.

Marketing is about engagement. It is touchy-feely, it has personality - it cannot be conducted over the ether. Or can it?

Readers' comments (3)

  • Marketing is about communicating. If you are a good communicator it shouldn't matter if it's face to face or via skype, email etc. I don't need to physically see my team to know they are working, sharing ideas and learning from one another,

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  • Being location independent I think that it all depends on the individuals and companies. I run my business remotely and have a team of people working with me. With modern technology it is a lot easier to get to know people who are not in your immediate vicinity but I do always try to meet in person with my clients and team whenever possible. Running my business remotely has certainly worked for me and in fact my business goes from strength to strength, but I am also very aware that it does not work for everyone or every business. Like most things in life what works for some may not work for others.

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  • As a digital marketing manager for a video conferencing company, you would expect that I'm in favour of remote working - and you'd be right.

    Remote working practices have transformed over the last 15 years, thanks to HD audio and video quality. Back in the day (or even 5 years ago) video calls were patchy / unreliable. We now have access to systems that are near broadcast quality, giving everyone the feeling that they're 'in the room'. It can be a deeply personal experience where little is lost in terms of communication.

    Remote working facilitates flexible working, which is here to stay / a key recruitment benefit for hard working employees, on a par with healthcare, shares and pension schemes.

    While I accept there are some roles that require physical presence, the number of roles are shrinking as virtual experiences improve in quality - take for example the increasing use of video conferencing in healthcare / surgery / consultations.

    Add to this the ever improving quality of true unified communications eg live desktop sharing while on a video call, there really are fewer barriers to creating a truly collaborative experience, with all the added benefits that flexibility offers.

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