Ever since Marissa Mayer declared “Work from Home” dead at Yahoo, many other companies have begun to take a closer look at the impact that “Work at Home” is having. In spite of being been placed under a microscope, it is still seen as providing more pros than cons. But like most social business issues, culture dictates how well employees will engage online as they do within a company’s four walls. 

We spoke to two chief executives who know a thing or two about working smarter to help us better understand what makes work from home work better.


Raymond Grainger is founder and chief executive officer at Mavenlink. Mavenlink, as you may remember, offers a flexible and powerful software platform that empowers users to manage every aspect of their business relationships more efficiently and have real-time control over service delivery, workforce productivity and the bottom line. 

Michael_Idinopulosi.jpg Socialtext's Michael Idinopulos is general manager and chief customer officer. It’s no secret that SocialText has been at the forefront of employee engagement, integrating social elements and gamification platforms in an effort to foster learning and collaboration across organizations.

Is Work From Home Dead?

When asked whether or not companies should follow Yahoo’s lead and begin to reign in employees who have been working from home, both leaders were quick to point out that this was a Yahoo problem, not a work from home issue.

While neither men have intimate knowledge of what’s going on at Yahoo, they both approached it from what they had read or heard from others. Yahoo wants to turn its business around, and they need to do it quickly, so rounding up the troops and bringing them in is one way of doing it. This doesn’t mean that working from home is dead or that working from the office is the new normal. Far from it.

Most work from home issues can be traced back to two things, according to Mr. Grainger -- communication and clarity. Is it clear what everyone should be working on? Is it understood what it is expected? The answers to these questions shouldn’t matter if you’re connecting from the corner office, a windowless cubicle or from the local coffee shop. If employees don’t know what they’re working on or why their contributions are needed, that isn’t an engagement issues, it’s a communication issue.

Furthermore, if employees are given the right tools through which they can track their progress, manage projects and share ideas and feedback, it will be easy for managers and directors to know what their employees are working on.

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More than a Perk

It used to be that working from home was a reward. It was a way for employees to feel special or for companies to save money. Thanks to our global economy and the always on social web there is no 9 to 5 anymore. It’s 24 hours, 7 days a week. As such, working from home is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Working from home also helps to reset the work/life balance. Recent studies have shown that workers have reported an improved work-life balance and lower stress and better health just by telecommuting. Additionally, last year the Harvard Business Review noted that people who work remotely were more engaged and more committed to their work and rated their leaders the highest.

But working for home isn’t a cure-all for increasing productivity and engagement. It takes work, commitment, and above all transparency and trust.

How Do You Capture the Water Cooler Conversations?

One of the reasons Marissa Mayer wanted to bring everyone in house was to get everyone talking around the water cooler again. You know, that’s where all the great conversations and inspirations take place, right? It’s the idea that those random conversations you have in the hallway or in someone’s office can breed innovation better and faster than having everyone spread out online. It’s a valid argument, but one that Mr. Idinopulos and Mr. Grainger take issue with.

Thanks to internal and public social networks, people are “water coolering” more than ever online. Need inspiration? Check your Twitter feed. Got a question? Post it to Yammer (or Socialtext Signal). Have an idea? Blog about it.

There is no lack of online outlets through which employees can seek feedback, connect with others and be inspired. In fact, both Socialtext and Mavenlink let users do it all from within a single platform, where all that “water coolering” can be tracked and analyzed. Can your organization do that from your hallway conversations? 

It's How You Are Working, Not Who Is Working

Both Idinopulos and Grainger make it clear that you either have trust or you don’t. Likewise, your organization either collaborates or it doesn’t. No one technology platform is going to change that, but collaboration and project management platforms like Socialtext and Mavenlink, among others, can make it easier for employees to collaborate, share knowledge and be more productive.

Additionally, both executives noted that they are constantly looking to the behaviors of their users to evolve their platforms. They say that users are doing more from mobile devices and their technologies are being used by a wide variety of industries, from manufacturing to landscape designers.

Online collaboration tools are not just for the knowledge worker. More and more, professionals everywhere are realizing the benefits that social business applications can provide. It’s not about being more social for the sake of being social. Rather, it’s about how they can improve their business processes by enhancing the way they communicate. As Mr. Idinopulos says, "sharing is powerful when it improves process."

If you're having work from home issues, take a closer look at how you're employees are working, rather than where they're working.