Microsoft/Yahoo…which way is it then?

Yahoo caused some consternation during the week when they announced that come June, all their remote workers would be expected to turn up to work at an office. Microsoft, in Ireland, at the moment, are running a competition about what people would do with the change in their lives if they could work from home.

Yahoo is in a bit of a bind and Microsoft have a cloud based office solution they are looking to sell. But…even so…

20 years ago I sat in a translation technology lecture talking about the Green Dream, and the beauty of being able to work from home because you’re connected to the network. It was in the very early days of the internet and email but the concept was under consideration. If you’re a freelance translator who can at least generate some work – increasingly difficult I believe – this works. But it may not work forever. Meanwhile, all the flexibility that technology related tools are giving us in terms of freedom from an office aren’t actually being used – much – in that way that I can see. Most knowledge based workers are still in some respect tethered to an office and working from home is not a regular feature of life but discretionary. Mostly, when I hear discussions about remote working, I hear the words “but you can’t trust…”

Trust is the issue. How do you trust that people are working if you can’t keep an eye on them? But you can’t really guarantee that unless you literally sit beside them and watch them doing their stuff.

I did a lean workshop a little while ago – and one of the comments I took away from it was the idea that what gets measured gets done. I’ve thought about this a lot, and realised that I don’t really agree with it. Mostly, we’re in the zone of organisational thinking here – how can we effectively get stuff done. A key answer to that question is to make it easy first up. Things that are easy to keep organised stay organised. I sometimes wonder if there is a way to compare which is likely to be more effective – making an organisational process easy versus making it measurable.

I find more people tend towards the measurable than the easy and I wonder why. And this need for measurable presentee-ism, it’s culturally driven. It’s not much good to Microsoft who are trying to sell this alternative lifestyle of distributed, remote work.

Decision-makers need to buy into it, facilitate it and make it easy to get work done. This, I suspect, may need a culture change because the one thing – in my experience in a lot of different places – that gets in the way of getting work done is the processes which many companies implement to measure how that work is getting done.

I think about this a lot lately. The technology allows me to live in west Clare – but industry culture has put all the work in a couple of central areas.

Our politicians talk a lot about the knowledge economy and I’ve always wondered what they exactly mean by that. I’d like a situation where it’s possible for more people to work remotely from parts of Ireland, rather than parts of Eastern Europe. Why do we accept offshoring to foreign countries but don’t necessarily facilitate it to parts of Ireland? This is a company culture thing as well.

We talk a lot about small and medium sized companies but we never talk about freelance individuals so much. I know a few people in that zone. When it gets discussed, what gets brought up is the tax they can avoid. But not the lack of coverage they get from social welfare despite paying quite a lot of money into it.

I’ve often felt that there is an issue in Ireland, and probably across humanity, with a culture of envy. The consumer society is, to some extent, built on it. I’m tired of hearing people tell me “Oh you’re so lucky” for some random thing which was an outcome of some decision or other I made (lately it’s the not having bought a house).

A flip side of it is the need to exert control as and when. This is part of the argument I hear against remote working. How can you control it? Control is a negative function. I’m more in line with looking at the question of how can we implement it and make it work easily. Because the easier it is to do, the more people will be able to to do with it.

Automattic who are responsible for WordPress have a distributed workforce – this I know because I know one person working for them but also because it was flagged in a lot of discussions around the Marissa Meyer decision for Yahoo regarding the pulling of remote working. A lot of offshoring involves distributed work forces. And the issue around measuring productivity in the knowledge economy exist regardless of whether you’re office tethered or not.

I happen to have Microsoft’s current iteration of Office and I like it a lot for various reasons. I recognise that Yahoo has lost its way and needs a reboot. A lot of comments focus on the idea that this might cause attrition and reduce Yahoo’s numbers accordingly. Some have focused on the culture that Meyer may have appreciated in Google.

But I think Microsoft’s way may well be the future, and Yahoo’s the past. Already, a lot of things are getting heavily and broadly distributed. Distributed university has existed for years courtesy of the Open University – and I have to say, electronic access to their journal library really, really rocks. MOOCs are currently big news although I suspect there’s a way to go before monetization is sorted out.

Most people, I believe, want to enjoy their work and flexibility tends to be demanded of them. But flexibility is a two way process. When I was answering Microsoft’s question regarding what I would do with time flexibility if I was able to work from home, I answered that location flexibility matters much, much more to me than time flexibility.

I sometimes thing people might forget that.

 

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