With HP's Work-From-Home Directive, Is the Digital Workplace Broken?

6 minute read
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social business, HP Another Yahoo with Work-From-Home Directive? Depends on Who You Ask
Depending on who you ask, Hewlett-Packard made this week one of two moves regarding where its employees work:

They either pulled a Marissa-Mayer-Yahoo-esque directive or ... they didn’t.

Kinda Like Yahoo? 

If you ask Hewlett-Packard themselves -- which we did by phone this morning -- this week’s message from the company to its employees was simply about reinforcing that more work-in-the-office opportunities now exist through its expanding real-estate options.

They’re all about being flexible for their employees, HP told us.

If you go strictly by the leaked internal Q&A memo that was shared with AllThingsD, HP is essentially toeing the Mayer/Yahoo line here with messages like:

“HP needs all hands on deck.”

“The more employees we get into the office the better company we will be.”

So a blanket policy for a majority of workers like Mayer’s? Not quite. But HP's CEO, Meg Whitman, is pretty close here, it seems. Pretty strong words to those HP telecommuters who’ve gotten comfortable rolling out of bed (or maybe even staying there) and firing up a work day.

social business, HP Another Yahoo with Work-From-Home Directive? Depends on Who You Ask

Photo courtesy of Monkey Business Images (Shutterstock)

Michael Thacker, director of corporate media relations for HP, told CMSWire in a phone interview this morning there is no new policy or global edict here. This, he said, is more about HP’s effort to focus on providing more space and work-in-office opportunities. 

“Over the past several years, HP has been focused on developing workplaces that attract employees to the office and encourage effective and collaborative work,” HP added in a prepared statement released to CMSWire. “Our investments in real estate and IT infrastructure have made it possible to now accommodate more employees in the office and also support new styles of working which we believe will further HP’s business strategies and objectives. Flexibility continues to be a core operating principle at HP.”

Management’s Off Message

Regardless of HP’s intent here, it raises a popular question today for enterprises: What to do in the work-from-home era in terms of policies, directives and implementing changes on the fly?

Tom Petrocelli, research director for enterprise social, mobile and cloud applications at Neuralytix, a New York City-based industry analyst firm specializing in the information technology industry, has done each: work from home and in the office. 

Speaking of Yahoo’s move earlier this year, although many industry insiders felt it was the wrong move to bring most employees in house, Petrocelli reminds us the “sky didn’t fall. People adapted.”

That doesn’t mean, he added, there won’t be long-term ramifications.

“That said, one would expect short-term benefits as people were able to come together more effectively in person,” Petrocelli added.

Petrocelli stressed that if companies are emphasizing the need for human contact, technology has enabled us to do that.

“How long has Skype been around?” he asked.

social business, HP Another Yahoo with Work-From-Home Directive? Depends on Who You Ask

Photo courtesy of Nadezhda1906 (Shutterstock)

When companies provide flexible, work-from-home schedules, it tells a worker the company cares about them and values them, Petrocelli said. Changing policies that force them inside company walls will “send the opposite message.”

Learning Opportunities

Why does HP or Yahoo need to have direct physical contact, Petrocelli asked, in order to collaborate or innovate when lots of companies, especially smaller ones, do quite well without it? Is this for HP employees to be more productive or HP management to be more secure?

“It suggests a failure of management,” Petrocelli added. “Clearly, HP thinks it needs to get people physically collected to impart values, mission and handle command and control. The latter especially shows that managers don’t know how to motivate employees without being the PHB and walking around and physically bugging people. To me, this smacks of ‘blame the victim.’” 

HP Tone OK, Unless ...

Laurence Hart, content management strategist for Alfresco, former CIO at AIIM and blogger at wordofpie.com, felt HP’s tone in its message to employees this week was “just fine.”

“They aren't making it a 100% requirement but they clearly want people to re-think why they are working remotely,” Hart told CMSWire. “It is clear from the tone that wanting to avoid a commute is not a sufficient reason.”

HP may have made the move, Hart said, simply because it saw the success of Yahoo’s.

“If that is the case, then this is a horrible decision,” he added. “HP is not Yahoo. Their only similarity is that they are both in the tech space. Yahoo was trying to not only reinforce their culture, but to cull some of the deadwood. Given the much larger distribution of offices and personnel, the odds of this having a similar result for HP is slim.”

All About Culture

Essentially, success with telecommuting companies comes down to culture, Hart said. The right tools, he said, enable companies to stay in contact with their employees, even if those tools are not provided by IT.

“What makes the difference is the cultural desire to collaborate,” he added. “If that isn't a strong part of the culture, then remote working can be extremely detrimental for jobs that require interaction with colleagues.”

Not interacting with each other can lead companies down a dangerous path, Hart cautioned.

“Even the most die-hard telecommuters must re-connect with the core team,” he said. “Everyone has the same goal, to succeed. When colleagues don't interact personally enough to reinforce their commonalities, they begin to misinterpret the tone and message in communications. Those that are doing it right bring everyone home on a regular basis to strengthen those ties.”

Set your work-from-home policies based on the type of work being done, he added, and stay away from blanket policies just for the sake of, well, implementing a policy.

“This is a world of grey,” Hart said. “You have to look at the people and the type of work that is being done and set the policy accordingly. I've seen permissive telecommuting policies gradually eat away at team morale because the trust eroded. It is all about finding the right balance and adjust it as needed.”

Like Yahoo, time will tell if HP’s (soft?) directive this week will be beneficial for the company. Working from home or not, it all comes back to being effective -- and most often that means collaborating with fellow employees, whether it’s at the water cooler or from your living room.

Photo in the opening paragraph courtesy of Anson0618 (Shutterstock).