This week the big news is how Marissa Mayer banned the Work from Home policy at Yahoo. This is a big deal in technology companies, and it's divided the valley between those who live and die by their work from home flexibility and those (like me) who have seen what a crock of sh*t it is and are firmly against it.
Work from Home is No Way To Be Innovative
There is no Work from Home in NYC (where I'm from), at least there wasn't when I left five years ago. Working from home was called “being unemployed and desperately taking in freelance jobs to keep afloat until you found the next real job.”
I don't have warm-fuzzy memories of those times. What I do have warm memories of is getting up in the morning with great expectations for the day. Getting dressed nicely, jumping on the subway, walking through the streets of Manhattan to my office. Saying hello to the team, having my first cup of coffee while we meet for the morning roundup. The vibrancy and thrill that is in the air where a team of real, live bodies, all in the same physical space, are all focused at once on the same project.
That Energy is What a Startup is All About
Even out here in California, where Work from Home is prevalent, the really great companies don't actually allow it.
At Google (Marissa's home) we could work from home, but our managers were pretty adept at checking in with us all day to be sure we were really working. And, Google is set up so that no one really wanted to work from home anyway. Free food on every floor, free restaurants, games, massages, activities, the freedom to come and go at will. There was no need to “escape” the deary confines of the office. It was way more fun to work from work.
You Can't Afford an Employee if You Can't Afford Office Space
But many startups, out of a misplaced budgeting restriction, encourage their teammates to work from home. This I am strongly against.
RULE OF THUMB: If you can't afford even shared office space, then you can't afford an employee, or a freelancer that works by the hour.
I've had bad experiences with employees simply not getting work done from home. Or worse, exploiting the freedom and lack of direct supervision. Using the time I'm paying for, to work on their own projects. That's penny-wise and pound-foolish my friends.
Work from Home Stifles Innovation
Also, even with the most honest freelancer and trustworthy employee, working alone just isn't conducive to innovation.
Here's an example of my work from home day: mornings are spent on the couch in pajamas, writing emails, answering calls (yes, still in pajamas), drinking my third cup of coffee by 7am, hopping on a Skype conference to be sure that the team in NYC is at work and working productively (it's already 10am there), trying to formulate such a perfectly well-written email that our contractor in Russia will understand the very complicated feature we're trying to add to our application, drinking more coffee, taking the dog for a walk, finally getting dressed and taking a shower and wondering why my engineer in San Francisco hasn't been returning my emails all morning…
That is not a productive startup environment.
Innovation Comes from In-Person Collaboration
Plenty of studies have shown that working in the same physical proximity with others increases creativity. It's not just that your employees (and you) are accountable for their time, it's that they feed off each others' ideas and energy. It's the 1 + 1 = 3 theory of human interaction. When we're together, brainstorming, working hard, sharing ideas, trying things out, we are exponentially more innovative.
Plus, it's more fun! That's why Steve Jobs designed large common rooms and placed the bathrooms away from the offices so people had to come out of their little cubicles and mingle and share.
But…I Have to Work from Home, I Don't Live Anywhere Near my Teammates
Okay, okay, it's the new economy and we have to work with people all over the world, and they can't mingle and share with us in person. True. I can't afford to give up my Russian engineers just because I can't meet them f2f. And sometimes someone has to stay home with a sick kid, and whatareyougonnado? But, on the whole, working from work is a much better way to go.
So when you've got your first employee or contractor, get yourself an office. Budget for it, or you'll rue the day. You need to be sitting in the same room with your freelancer to “inspire” them to work a full day. But also, share the energy. Share the vision of your company. Share a lunch and bond over cheesecake. That's how you build a team, build a company.
And no more taking meetings in your pajamas–get dressed already!
Find Great Shared Office Space Here
Here are some great places to find coworking environments. You can work with others and share the energy, even if you're a one-person startup.
All Over the World
Start by checking out Desk Wanted a website that matches desks to workers around the world. (List your available desk here, too!)
In San Francisco
NextSpace Union Square (SF)
The Happiness Institute (SF)
Open Loft Office in SoMa (SF)
We Work (SF, LA, NYC)
More for SF here.
Across the US
Add to my list. What other places do you know of that will rent a desk or two to a bootstrapping startup?