When Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, sends a memo about the “myth of working from home”, the blogosphere reacts. There have been many articles published in recent days on Yahoos declaration of a ban on the remote working culture the company had so feverishly promoted in the years before. One such article (http://uib.li/YFAgbK) that seems to sum up the position of many of those writing simply states: “After years of predictions, why is working from home not the norm?”
This is an interesting question and one we’re very passionate about here at Unified Inbox. Our Community Manager Chris Weir recently commented “Employees should be measured on performance, not on the hours they are in the office. If you do not trust your employees to work from home then why trust them with important tasks in the first place?”.
Given that the basic underlying technology certainly is available (broadband and teleconferencing being only two examples), and so is the legal and tax framework – from a company’s perspective the issue becomes more about “trust” or “performance”?
But how much of an issue is this really?
Brad Feld recently had a great general post from Chris Moody about trust on his blog called “Trust can scale“. Considering the distances and different time zones remote workers are often exposed to, trust is probably the single most important element to make remote working arrangement work. Clearly that trust has been lost to Yahoo employees as otherwise solutions would be found instead of rewinding the clock by a decade – as Richard Branson commented “this is a step backwards”.
Unified Inbox is currently 15 people in 6 different countries, so I personally have worked with these issues every day of our company life. And to me there are 3 main factors (I’ll expand on them in a future separate post) that govern the success and enable one to get the desired results with a remote workforce:
- People & Skills – that includes trust which must be scalable, clear terms and a transparent framework around the working arrangement to manage expectations etc.,
- Tools & Processes – despite many great collaboration tools developed recently, there is still a big gap between communication and collaboration as such (one example: try to get an incoming tweet in front of anybody in your team and have a conversation around it before replying) and
- Strategy & Execution – it’s hard enough to get the same picture when all are in one room, but it’s only natural that the mind runs wild when we are separated from each other for too long, so some specific communication effort (and sacrifice) has to be made from the entire team in order to stay aligned.
Given that it’s not a straight-forward, easy task to manage teams in remote locations, why do we continue with this setup?
Let’s just say after years of many predicting “working from home as the future for everybody”, we’re not going to give up on this just yet. In fact we’ll be a leader on this journey, living and working by example to make this happen.
However such a process isn’t easy. In fact, it’s quite painful, difficult and (as Yahoo would probably confirm) a long and winding road with an unknown destination. Promising the results that people hope for (i.e. having the freedom to work not just from home, but basically from anywhere, and have performance rated rather than “time put in” as Chris puts it) – before having all the above factors under control, is almost impossible and rather risky.
While (1) and (3) mostly depend on the people – both inside and out – (team, clients, partners and media) in how they’re being set up, executed and being perceived, for (2) it is a different story:
Even if you have a super CEO and management team, great people that you can trust and a strategy & execution that helps that trust scale, you still need a service (or tool) to make that (very!) painful process of having a remote workforce “work”!
Personally, this is one of the key motivators in building Unified Inbox the way we are doing it – as a Unified Conversation & Social Collaboration Platform that can be used as much for internal (local and remote) team members as well as todays occasional (but tomorrows ordinary) external social collaborators.
Unified Inbox is on the way of solving that problem where companies like Yahoo made a bold and respectable move by giving their employees more freedom and empowering them to work from anywhere, but lacked the tools to keep everybody aligned with each other.
We’re building Unified Inbox from the ground up with a completely distributed team in mind – and are solving the communication challenges such a setup brings with it every step along the way by centralizing external conversations, social engagement and internal team collaboration in one single platform across desktop and mobile devices. This keeps everybody aligned and in constant contact with each other.
That’s why to me, Unified Inbox represents an enormous market opportunity by solving this gap between collaboration and communication – just for remote working arrangements alone. The process of solving this gap ultimately becomes the service we want to sell, and the bigger the pain is that the service solves, the bigger is the market opportunity which is created.
Looking at Yahoo (and even more so the growing cities in Asia where every day millions of people spend 2-3 hours in traffic to get to and from their workplace), that is a pretty sizable opportunity.
If you’re interested to try Unified Inbox for your business, please register on http://launch.unifiedinbox.com (please let us know if you plan using it with a remote workforce) – or, if you’re interested to invest, please email firstname.lastname@example.org