No more working at home for Hewlett-Packard employees?

Current HP CEO Meg Whitman speaks during a debate in October 12, 2010 at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, Calif.

In the early days of the digital revolution, the idea that anyone could work anywhere was enough to entice workers everywhere to request telecommuting options. But when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced a ban on working from home in February, it ruffled feathers in the corporate world. Critics slammed the decision saying it was inflexible, hurting long commuters and working mothers, among others. 

Now Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman is following in a similar fashion. Although she hasn't put into place a outright ban, she announced that she wants everyone to work at the office saying, "During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck."

Nancy Koehn, who teaches at the Harvard Business School, says there's a strong case for the flexibility to be able to work from home.

"But that doesn't necessarily translate into across the board, stamp of approval on telecommuting, at every moment, in every industry, for every company," she says.

Supporters of the ban on telecommuting would be happy to know that since Mayer's annoucement, Yahoo's stock has shot up. Koehn says that although it's hard to demonstrate an exact correlation, there are some positive changes at Yahoo that are hard to ignore. 

"Not all work is meant to be done alone," she says. "A lot of work -- the best work, often -- is done with others in serious pursuit, and often in a place where everyone meets to do it."

About the author

Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School.
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Wow MV, You just made my day with the laughter that came ut of me. I had a rough day at the office so I really appreciate it. Sounds like Meg nmight not be your favorite person but you have to give some credit to how fr she has worked to earn the position. I personally wouldn't want that stress but I respect anyone who wants that high level position. I never had lunch wth Meg but I can tell you that I always chew my food and try my best at using table manners. I'm still laughing so thanks again for this humorous post.

The following study done in 2012 for Skype shows quite the opposite trend:


In addition, there have been numerous studies done that show working from home actually increases productivity, not decreasing it. I know from personal experience this is true and while certain positions require you to be in the office/plant, etc. there are many where you'd be better off at home.

In an article in the WSJ by Rachel Silverman it states and I would agree with she states:

"In the few minutes it takes to read this article, chances are you'll pause to check your phone, answer a text, switch to your desktop to read an email from the boss's assistant, or glance at the Facebook FB -0.60% or Twitter messages popping up in the corner of your screen. Off-screen, in your open-plan office, crosstalk about a colleague's preschooler might lure you away, or a co-worker may stop by your desk for a quick question."

Link to full article:

I'm perplexed because I'm not sure what research these executives are using to support such a move since everything I've read indicates the opposite. I suspect that companies that allow Work From Home are going to pick up some great talent from HP.

Meg Whitman's decision may be solely hers but in many ways HP shares the same stagnant, even moribund corporate culture that Yahoo managed to cultivate over recent years. A more courageous (and smart) decision would be to use HP's own partnerships, set up true videoconferencing across the company, and address their "performance issue" staff outright and not use the indirect hope that slackers will leave the company instead of "coming in to the office". HP has been in a downturn mode for so long they even have difficulty in maintaining strategic partnerships for lack of sales strategies. Since there is no acceptable proof that forcing people into cube farms or (worse) open tables in large rooms as "permanent" office assignment has any long-term bump to productivity, one can only hope that HP gains a bit more love from Wall Street by this copycat move and things will smoothen out later. HP will only lose more mindshare by creating an "all hands on deck" environment but by this action is really admitting (finally) that business really stinks.

Agree! The "slackers" will come into work and "look busy", while the star employees will pack their bags and go work for a different company. This will work very much like an announced downsizing. It's been my experience that this just causes all the "good people" to leave and what are you left with :-)

I remember when the "cube farm" concept was taken to the next level. HP had our cubes so small that the chair would not rotate due to the lack of clearance between the desk edge and the cube wall, no lie. We had to lift our chairs over the cube opening to get them in because they left no room to roll our chairs in. LOL. crazy.

Hmm, for the sales organizations, HP provides bull pens, something commonly called hot desking or hoteling. A small number of desks and infrastructure theoretically accommodates a large number of visiting sales people, like fractional ownership (time sharing). I wonder whether they've thought this through?

I was a victim of "hoteling" an idea that was in some CIO magazine I think about 2002. There was literally almost a revolt of the team! The pros of "quick collaboration" were squashed by the inability to think due to the noise and distractions.

I have personally worked at HP and am appalled that you all would even suggest that Mgt. is even remotely aware of what is going on within the walls of their bldgs. I have NEVER witnessed such an absolute waste of expertise, and there are some incredibly talented ppl there, in all my life. There are more meetings to accomplish microscopic amounts of progress than one can shake a stick at. You can't swing a cat without hitting a person either coming from or going to a stupid senseless unproductive meeting. They have project managed themselves right into the ground. They waste everything, and promote incompetence. They open Singapore test center, they close Singapore test center, they open Costa Rica, they move Costa Rica ... to Mexico..., The build Roseville CA ProCurve data center, then they move it to Denver or Houston or both. Amazing.
And, the most productive ppl were the ones working from home. Go figure.
"hey everyone, come on into the office and let's have some koolaid and a meeting!"

I believe it depends on what your role is. I have primarily telecommuted as part of the sales side of a few organizations. We would do Friday meetings and that would be our time for collaboration. Otherwise, going to the office was a waste of my valuable time! When I did attempt to work from the office I was interrupted by others with irrelevant discussions or gossip and I would attempt to make calls only to have loud people in my general area preventing me from making professional sounding phone calls. I could go on and on! At home, I wake up, brush my teeth and sit down at my computer and start my day. If my work phone rings at 7am or 7pm, I answer it and work because my desk is right there, not in an office building an hour away.

Organisations are different and so also are the accompanying organisation imperatives. So, the correct problem statement must be defined for organisations looking into any form of flexible work place arrangements. If the problem statement is wrong, the solution and everything that goes with the solution definition will be wrong. I thought some of the questions that need raising before defining an appropriate organisation specific work placement problem statement, may include:

• What additional leverage or benefit do locally assembled workforce bring over and above flexible work placement arrangement?
• What strategic goals are best driven by bringing people together in the same place?
• Are there behavioural and/or cultural changes that need driving through locally assembled workforce?
• Which strat(um/a) of employee base are most critical to drive the organisation strategic objectives and how geolocationally dispersed are they?
• Are there commuting challenges impacting on both the quality of work and life of the identified employee strat(um/a)?
• What is the most effective and balanced work place arrangement (that will get the best out of) for identified critical strat(um/a) of employee base?
• What technologies or technical architectures and capabilities are required to enable and/or support the employee base?
• Are there any strategic gains in deploying those enabling capabilities?

Probably not much in simply rolling out a me-too strategy. It has to be a fit for the organisation


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