Should Dev’s Work From Home?

Yesterday, as I was sitting Cape Town traffic, a presenter from my favourite talk radio show, Cape Talk, asked the following question of his listeners:

“Why are you forcing your employees to come into work? Can I ask any business owner to call me and tell me why. If they are not client facing, or part of a physical production line, why are they coming to work?”

I found the Radio Host’s traffic induced rage interesting. Why was this question still being asked? I could hardly imagine rising stars of corporate management standing up in front of an audience and agree that everybody should come to the office. Even less so could I image business owners in the digital sphere doing so. However, tons of people are still required to come into the office each day. How can this be?

Whilst I was working in corporate I was always of the opinion that telecommuting was prohibited for one main reason: The ship was still under the control of the Calvinist Patriarchs. Tired old men who have a born desire to control their employee’s every move and thought. I also knew that these men were on the way out. Perhaps the wheels of change turn slower than I initially believed, this is Cape Town after all. However, from my corporate cubicle in Pinelands I imagined how Cape Town’s young and fresh digital and creative firms must be spread out all over the place. I imagined them connecting via Skype and the vast array of remote collaboration tools available. This was apparently not entirely true.

It has been my experience thus far that most Cape Townian tech-, digital- and creative firms still require their employees to come to the office. At best they might offer some form of flexible working hours. At first this was surprising to me, especially considering the nature of the industry. It only made sense to me that developers, software engineers, designers, and other innovators should be allowed to work where-ever they would be most innovative. A venue should not be forced upon them.

There was one thing I did not consider though: That the place where they would be most innovative might actually be at the office. It only took a quick Google search to find out that in an attempt to turn Yahoo back into an innovator they have called their employees back into the office. This decision was based on research by the University of San Francisco that showed a simple relationship:

People are more productive at home, but more innovative at the office.

The primary reason for this is that the office forces interaction and collaboration between different innovators who might normally not have connected with each other. Through proper workplace design it would also be possible to force conversations and interactions that would otherwise not have taken place.  On the other hand, working from home reduces distractions, allowing the execution of existing ideas to continue without interruption at higher level of efficiency.

So it might be wrong to look toward the technology and creative industries in Cape Town to start a change in the practice of coming to the office to work. Perhaps programmers, engineers, designers, and creative types are exactly the group that should be in the office, and the accountants should stay at home.