Does remote working stifle innovation?

The Spark

22nd June 2017

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Put down your cup of tea, shut the living room door and get your trousers back on. The remote working bubble might be about to burst.

Quartz has looked at various companies’ approaches to remote working, finding that former fervent supporters like IBM are changing their policies. Outgoing Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously ended the organisation’s telecommute policy in 2013 whilst HPE is taking the same approach as IBM and calling staff onto premises.

Could it be time to top up your Oyster card or dust off your commuter bike?

Well, not quite. Quartz leads by looking into the office of Automattic, the tech innovation company behind, finding that the 15,000 square feet office space is now for sale as staff embrace remote working. In fact, its CEO Matt Mullenweg noted that at some points only five people were heading into the office; leaving as many gaming tables as there were people.

Despite this, the company is still pro-remote working. It even gives employees £250 a month towards the use of other commercial co-working spaces. Automattic isn’t suffering for it either; it carries a multi-billion-dollar valuation and has been tipped for a possible IPO over the past few years.

Clearly, policies towards remote working are differing massively from company to company. Whilst high profile companies like IBM or HPE might be extolling the virtues of an official working hub, other players are taking a different approach. Recent research from Microsoft has even suggested that 80 per cent of UK bosses allow employees flexibility in where they work; with a third of UK employees fulfilling contracted hours outside the office. Innovator extraordinaire, Google, thinks remote working harms a culture of invention. Having recently revealed plans for its huge new 11 storey-UK HQ, complete with the sort of embellishments – roof gardens and swimming pool among them – that make you want to stay in the office and hang out with colleagues, Google seems to promote the inflexible working approach.

Numerous experts have explained the benefits of offering remote working options to staff; from increased loyalty to improved staff productivity. Of course, selling your office as Automattic has done might be a step too far.

If staff are more productive at home but more innovative in the office, perhaps the decision on where people work needs to be made in the context of the needs of the business as well as the needs of its team.


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