Recently Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, created headlines by issuing an ultimatum. She gave Yahoo employees working remotely from home until June to begin working from, well… Yahoo. The initial reaction from many was that her decision was the result of the poor performance of remote workers. As one of my UMSI colleagues remarked over lunch, the employees that worked from home were probably just “mailing it in.”
However, Mayer later clarified her decision by addressing the “elephant in the room.” Although employees are actually more productive working alone from home, they are more collaborative and innovative when they are collocated. The literature on innovation has long contended that many innovations occur as a result of accidental contact between employees through informal social, rather than formal work-related communications. These are often referred to as water cooler moments when employees bump into each other by the company’s water cooler or spark conversations over coffee in the office kitchen.