Innovation Interrupted

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief,

“When I do get to work from home, I wind up actually working more,” said my neighbor Joe, who’s employed by a Japanese investment bank in New York City. “I start working at the time I’d normally leave for my hour-and-a-half commute, I eat a quick lunch in the kitchen, and then I don’t stop working until well after I’d have arrived home. Oh, and I don’t get interrupted a dozen times by nonsense. They get a heck of a lot more out of me on those days — though they are few and far between.”

Those super-productive days are rare, says Joe, because the company culture is generally against working from home.

Another dad from town, Larry, said his company recently eliminated his prized one-day-a-week of working from home because someone at his office had somehow, “taken advantage of it.” There is nothing quite as enlightened as collective punishment, of course.

These organizations, you are probably thinking, are bucking the inexorable trend of history. In general, I’d agree, though recently there has been another egregious example of reaching into the past for a way forward.

Last month, IBM Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso announced that working remotely was going the way of the dinosaurs for her approximately 5,500 reports. The best (in best, I mean most amusing) part about this announcement was, well, her announcement:


“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and a lot of time working with teams from real-estate, finance, HR, operations, the geo leaders, the marketing leaders – and starting with the US, it’s really time for us to start bringing our teams together, more shoulder to shoulder.

“There is only one recipe I know for success, particularly when we are in as much of a battle with Microsoft and the West Coast companies as we are, and that is by bringing great people with the right skills, give them the right tools, give them a mission, make sure they can analyze their results, put them in really creative inspiring locations and set them free.”

Let me start off by first saying, Holy Cow.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, consider the irony of forcing people into one location and then “setting them free” (presumably with the windows and doors locked so they can’t escape). Secondly, how many folks have ever found their place of work (and attendant commute) to be “really creative inspiring”?

That’s what I thought.

But let’s be fair to Peluso by reflecting on her possible inspiration for this endeavor, the embattled and soon to be out of work Marissa Mayer, whom I also held up for scorn when she blazed this ignominious trail four years ago. Studies, apparently, have shown that there is an upside to getting folks together. But I have a problem accepting that a company can transition from enlightened to troglodytic without a lot of pain.

Let’s take as a small example. Nancy, Kate and I all live and work at different locations (Kate and I about two hours away from each other in New Jersey, and Nancy in Colorado). If I had been of the Peluso and Mayer mindset, hiring Nancy would have been out of the question. And thus, I’d have had to draw a circle around our office location in New Jersey (the size of which would match the approximate distance folks would be willing to commute) and then begin my search for a sales director. Now, I haven’t done the research, but I’m guessing I wouldn’t have found someone I’d previously worked with and respected who had more than 20 years of experience selling healthcare IT-associated advertising and sponsorships. My guess is I’d have had to settle for a lot less in terms of talent — a deficit that no amount of time working “shoulder to shoulder” would have made up for.

The point, of course, is that when fishing for talent, you want your pool to be as large as possible so as to access the best and brightest. While there are some jobs (especially on the clinical side of healthcare) for which you really do have to be there, there are many others (especially in IT) where it matters little where you are, and so to shrink your pool for some imagined upside may make little sense.

Are there some conversations that really are more effective face to face? Sure. And so, getting together on some type of regular basis is ideal (whether this be weekly, monthly or quarterly), but stipulating that folks must be “shoulder-to-shoulder” day in and day out is an exercise in considering only the upside of the equation and ignoring the formidable cost.

So despite these two recent examples of harkening back to a glorified past, keep thinking mobile, keep thinking remote and keep thinking about the flexibility that technology offers in building your workforce. I’m sure you’ll wind up on the right side of history.


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  1. vbiunno says:

    Troglodytic? I’m needing a dictionary lately.

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