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With respect Mr. Branson, you're wrong!


The recent decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to bring teleworkers back to the office has spawned a hurricane of opinion about both the merits of mobile work in general and the wisdom of this move for Yahoo in particular. Among the latest of the luminaries to weigh in is Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group, who suggested that the policy change was an indication that Yahoo did not trust its employees to work diligently unless they were in the building. In a blog post Branson stated, “To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision … Working life isn’t 9-5 anymore. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.”

Interestingly, trust does play a role but not in the way Branson envisions. Years before Facebook & Twitter, Dr. Karen Stephenson of Netform began talking about the power of informal networks in the workplace. Dr. Stephenson noticed that we tend to share our best ideas with people to whom we are naturally drawn. This kind of “trust capitol” as she calls it, is built up in ongoing social interactions whether they occur around the coffee bar or in a meeting room. Without this level of trust we fear betrayal (“she stole my work and passed it off as her own”), or ridicule (“he made me feel like an idiot in front of my boss”).

The real intellectual capital of an organization isn’t in a filing cabinet or the latest report. Rather it’s in the heads of the people that work there. Bringing those heads together under one roof, at least periodically, will foster the kind of knowledge transfer, sharing and continuous learning Yahoo desperately needs to survive.

I’m not sure I would have swung the pendulum as far back as Ms. Mayer has chosen or if it will save Yahoo, did but I do believe the strategy is sound.

| By Michael Fazio

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“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot