Where are you more productive, at the office or at home? What’s better for morale? Can you build a great team if you never see see each other? Can you get actual work done, if you see each other all the time?
Yes. No. Both. I don’t care. Wrong question.
Let me elaborate. Marissa Meyer famously cut down on remote work when she took over at Yahoo. She said that “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” On the other hand, there is strong research that suggests that “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.” There is truth in both sides. Commuting every day to an office can be as soul-sucking and as productivity-boosting, as working from home (as is beautifully illustrated by one of my favourite cartoonist here). The question is not what’s better, working in an office or working from home. The question is in which circumstances working in an office is the right choice and in which circumstances the home-office is more useful.
Being at an office is great if
- you need access to specialised equipment that is there;
- you want to discuss or find consensus on important decisions;
- you want to build emotional connections with your colleagues and bond over coffees and little side-chats.
Working from home is great if
- you need complete control over your environment (noise, who can talk to you when, etc.);
- you have private things to take care of during the day (accepting a delivery, etc.);
- you want to limit your commuting time from breakfast table to office to 1 minute.
What’s really bad for morale and productivity is if someone else decides where you have to work, regardless if that makes sense for what you need to do on that day. Being stuck in traffic is bad enough itself, but being stuck in traffic because you are on your way to an office where the only reason for you to be there is to physically be there and be constantly interrupted in trying to work on something very complicated is a nightmare. Being stuck in traffic on your way to the office, where you have scheduled a meeting with your valued colleagues in order to work on something where you actually all need to sit around the same table for a few hours - that’s completely acceptable, particularly with a phone full of great podcasts that you’ve lined up for this trip.
In the end it all boils down to agency. Who decides about where and how your spend your time. If you and your colleagues are free and trusted to make those decisions autonomously and based on sense and common needs, you’re probably going to be as happily productive as you can be.