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Why face time matters

Published: March 20, 2013

Author: Sean Marshall

Still not into the whole suit thing.
It’s been a few weeks since Marissa Meyer got on a lot of people’s bad sides and ended Yahoo’s work-from-home program. While PPC Associates offers an ultra-flexible WFH policy (which I take advantage of regularly), I have no problem with her decision. It takes a special kind of person to make a WFH arrangement work, and I can’t blame her for wanting to corral things a bit. The bottom line is that face time matters.
Now, I can’t directly speak to how Yahoo runs their business, and while a lot of folks like to point to their sagging performance as a way to validate Meyer’s decision, I won’t bother. The reality is that WFH setups are complicated and offer a myriad of pros and cons. Like most business decisions, it comes down to risk/reward. Anyone who rejects the potential drawbacks of either setup is missing the mark.
The pros of WFH are pretty simple: happy employees and a larger talent pool to hire from. What’s complicated is that not all employees are cut out to WFH, and the whole process can backfire to create some very unhappy colleagues. The only fool-proof benefit to WFH is having more candidates to choose from. Even then, some measure of face time is needed to full vet the candidate. You just can’t escape meeting in person!
So why does face time really matter?  Here are three of my favorite reasons.
1)      Things get done faster – True, people aren’t always available even when they’re in an office together. Meetings, work, whatever the reason, there is no 100% solution. That aside, if you want something done, there’s no substitute for turning to the person next to you, asking a question, and getting an immediate answer. Sure, you might be interrupting that person (and slowing them down) but you’re going to get what you need – immediately. Hopefully you can repay that person with some immediate answer down the road and offset any lost efficiency from interrupting/distracting them.
But if you’re WFH?  Even being “online” doesn’t mean you’re there to answer. You can probably argue that someone having to run the other person down (taking 2-3 attempts in the process) creates more inefficiency than the guy interrupting his neighbor.
2)      You form better relationships – Putting a face to a name is just the beginning. It’s the small talk and the interruptions that bring people together. If I’m WFH, I can invest that time into fun downtime activities, a quick video game or checking some sports highlights, but it doesn’t do much for the company (then again, maybe those highlights might become a topic of conversation the next time I chat up a colleague). I’ve read a number of arguments against Meyer citing that engineers don’t need this type of interaction – solitude is why they become engineers in the first place. I don’t buy it. No one operates in a vacuum, and there’s some collaborative aspect to everything we do. There’s something about being available, seeing your colleague’s body language, and opening the door to tangents and filler that even Skype video chat can’t capture.
3)      No having to “prove yourself” – I’ve argued against the idea of face time in other posts, and one of my points was that I could just as easily sit at my desk, looking busy but checking those same highlights I watch at home, and people around me would be none the wiser. It’s true that you can just pretend to work, but where I get hung up is thinking that OTHER people don’t think I’m working because I WFH.
I’m weird that way and need some validation that my peers don’t think I’m skating (maybe I shouldn’t tell people I take video game breaks when I WFH). I don’t fully understand why I do it, but I do. I start earlier than normal when I WFH (and not because of the commute) and make a point to refresh my email more often. I know I’m doing a lot and earning my keep, but somehow I feel less stressed about it when I’m AT the office. (Psychoanalysis welcome in the comments section.)
When it comes down to it, balance is key. Fully remote employees don’t have a choice in the matter, and unless you have talent beating down your door, I doubt anyone would be willing to revoke that status (you’re safe Todd!). That said, anyone within reasonable driving distance from their office shouldn’t whine about having to come into work. I think WFH works best when some face time is thrown in the mix.
Though I have no problem with Yahoo ending its WFH policy, I wouldn’t want PPC Associates to ever end it. What I appreciate most is the reality check this gives people. Working from home isn’t a divine right; it’s a privilege. If you are so gifted that you chose to spurn your employer for taking WFH away, then go for it! Just remember to send me your resume – we’re hiring.
– Sean Marshall, VP of Business Development

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Chicago, IL 60602

(650) 539-4124

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