Marissa Meyer's decision to call an end to Yahoo!'s working from home policy has reignited the debate around flexible working over the last couple of weeks. The number of people willing to advance an opinion on the matter has demonstrated its importance on the business agenda and shows it remains a contentious issue.
Many have been quick to criticise the change, most prominent among them Richard Branson, who sees it as a regressive step that is out of sync with modern business thinking. Others, including a number of Yahoo! employees, have pointed out that working from home policies have been abused by some employees, causing a dip in productivity and creating a disparate workforce.
The point missed by many, is that flexible working is about far more than simply choosing between the office and the home. It isn't a case of "either one or the other" and it is possible to do both. A blinkered approach could be why some remain blind to the opportunities flexible working presents. It's also why we refer to it as Anywhere Working.
Anywhere Working, a cause championed by the Anywhere Working Consortium, is about being productive regardless of your location; whether that's at home, in the airport, on the train, in a café, or at a specially designed drop-in office. To realise the potential of Anywhere Working, we are encouraging industry and Government to invest in creating 'third spaces' that allow people to meet and be productive. The folks at Yahoo! are right: communication and collaboration are important. Working in isolation prohibits social interaction and often the best ideas are a cumulative effort, spawned by shared thoughts and multiple opinions.
But, it is important that employees are able to match tasks to environments and match environments to people. Sometimes it helps to have someone to act as a sounding board for your ideas, and even in our hyper-connected society, it is difficult to replicate the level of connection made when speaking to someone face to face. On the other hand, there are some jobs that require focus and are best tackled away from the hub-bub of the office. Different people find inspiration in different places. For some that's in a meeting room or, as the cliché goes, at the water cooler. But for others, it's on the bus, or walking the dog, or over lunch. People should be empowered to work from wherever they are most productive, rather than simply choosing between the office or the home.
Anywhere Working is about protecting productivity, not only by liberating employees, but also by safeguarding against disruption. A workforce that can operate from multiple locations will be able to respond better when the snow arrives, or transport connections go down, or, as evidenced by the Olympics, when the rest of the world pays a visit.
The conversation should be about the work we do and how and where we can be most productive. Arguing about which single location is best misses the point entirely.
Anywhere Working Week is taking place from March 18-22 across the country to encourage businesses to review the way people work and to promote the benefits of flexible work-styles. Led by the Anywhere Working Consortium, of which Microsoft, Department for Transport and Transport for London are founding members, the campaign will involve the creation of a number of flexible working hubs for people to use and visit.
Working in conjunction with Local Authorities, the Anywhere Working Consortium will be setting up hubs in London, Devon, Bristol, Norfolk and Essex. Visitors to each of the hubs will have the opportunity to network with fellow or aspiring flexible workers, while the sites will also play host to Anywhere Working workshops. There will be sessions with thought leaders on the future of work as well as an opportunity to hear practical advice on how to work flexibly and get to grips with the latest Anywhere Working strategies, technology and tools from the Department for Transport, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Regus, Transport for London and Vodafone.
To find out more, please visit anywhereworking.org