Woody Allen once famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” the meaning of which, I always understood to be that if you’ve at least made the effort to appear in the flesh, you were well on your way to accomplishing your goal. Logic would dictate that the same rate of success cannot be achieved virtually by videochat, Skype, telephone or via email or text.
Perhaps Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was embracing her inner "Woodman" when she announced her ban on working from home for Yahoo employees.
There is certainly tremendous value to be gained from face-to-face interaction in the workplace. In-person communications play a role in building relationships, fostering collaboration, hatching big ideas and solving problems. In many business circles, a firm handshake and direct eye contact can speak volumes, not to mention serve as a barometer of sorts for character and trust. Side-by-side, people share ideas, confidences, dreams and aspirations…the soft stuff that can create hard returns.
The benefits of working at the office are well established. However, it is also important to keep in mind that just being there is not the same as being there.
Consider this typical 2013 scenario: A meeting takes place in an office conference room. Four or five employees who work at the company along with an outside consultant or two are convened to discuss and solve an issue.
The lights are dimmed for the slide presentation. The presenter is practically doing calisthenics at the front of the room to capture and hold the attention of the others, though he can already see two meeting participants on their iPhones, one on her laptop checking her Facebook and another has just been texted.
Yes, everyone is physically there in that room, but how many are actually being there? How much productivity is really taking place given the distractions?
Being there is as much a state of mind as it is a state of physicality. While it is possible to have both, there’s no guarantee employers get the mind when they get the body. Who is to say a disciplined, engaged employee working from home can’t be there for the employer?
In my 25+ year career, I have worked both at the office and from home. Along the way, I have collaborated with many very talented colleagues. It didn’t matter to me, my partners, our employer, our clients or the success of our projects where we were sitting day-to-day, as long as we met face-to-face regularly, talked frequently, commented on and enhanced each other’s work products and were 100% engaged in the delivery of our best. If anyone's attention strayed, it showed.
Considering how the pendulum has swung in the last twenty years from business dress to business casual, from nine-to-five to telecommuting, it seems likely that a middle ground will soon be identified that allows for valuable, contributing employees—those who are at the office everyday and those whom, for a myriad of reasons, work from home.
As CEO, Ms. Mayer has put a stake in the ground for herself and started a new iteration of the conversation about multi-tasking, focus and what is required to deliver the kind of innovation that will drive Yahoo forward.
She has done a service for her company as well as other businesses by sounding a wake-up call about the importance of being there at work. And for now at Yahoo, showing up is part of the deal.