To whip the one-time dominant Yahoo portal (remember when those were a thing?) back into shape, CEO Marissa Mayer and company have been laying down the law. All Yahoos now must make it into the office, as telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements will officially become a no-no by June.
The new policy is meant to improve collaboration and communication, but it's also been dinged for being antithetical to the spirit of Silicon Valley, where world-changing work often originates from garages and coffee shops.
I left the San Francisco Bay Area and an office job after the first dot-com crash in 2000. The last time I reported to a company office on a regular basis was 2006. Since leaving that last newsroom gig as a newspaper reporter and assembling a new portable office that easily fits in a backpack, my productivity has increased massively.
While it's not for everyone, telecommuting has taught me how to work more efficiently, with greater focus, and in a more sustainable manner with less risk of burnout. I no longer regularly burn the midnight oil, coffee and Red Bull in hand, with a room full of bleary-eyed reporters all cramming to make deadlines.
In my experience, a full day at the office doesn't actually encourage focus. It could be better for collaborating, as Yahoo asserts, but the bulk of work for writers and reporters is a solitary endeavor. Being in a room full of reporters and editors often made it more difficult to tune out the office environment and get down to business. At home -- or on the road -- it's just a matter of tossing aside the TV and Xbox, setting up a distraction-free zone, and getting to work sans ping pong tournaments and other "collaborations" going on down the hall.
While I snark, there is of course something to be said for face-to-face interaction and the power of a handshake. Truth be told, I sometimes romanticize the camaraderie of the newsroom (although it usually just takes one visit to old friends laboring in a musty, fluorescent-lit newspaper office to dispel the notion). I talk to plenty of people who say they absolutely need that human connection on a daily basis to keep their energy up.
So, perhaps I'm just a cyborg, but Skype and Google+ Hangouts are usually plenty for me when it comes to collaboration and interaction. Throw in the frequent trips to trade shows, conferences, and other events, and I get my fill of humanity, while getting to spend more time with my favorite humans.
So today I work to the sound of my daughter's laughter in the other room and a rushing river outside my home office window. And I'm not always working from my home office. Like Richard Branson says, I believe the office will one day be a thing of the past. Today, especially with ubiquitous broadband infrastructure, the whole world is one big office.
To illustrate the point for Mayer and everyone else at Yahoo, here are just a few of the places I've done some of my best work (including quite a few pieces for CNET) in recent years:
Swinging in a hammock in an Ecuadorian cloud forest: For part of this past winter and fall, my family and I moved to Ecuador. Thanks to free Wi-Fi in most public parks and cafes in the country, it was easy to stay on top of work without missing a beat. In fact, I actually managed an increase in my productivity for CNET while in Latin America. I'm fortunate enough to love what I do, and there are few things more inspirational to a writer than a view like this one to the right. After getting in an epic hike in the morning, I was happy to sit on the patio and write well into the evening.
Bachelor party, Lake Travis, Texas: I'm not a total kill-joy, I swear. But when you're the only sober guy with a family at the bachelor weekend and some other dude you don't know has just busted out his latest hip-hop demo tape that's not quite your jam, I think it should be acceptable to excuse yourself, head to the top level of the houseboat, and finish up a blog post ahead of schedule. It'll be worth looking like a stick in the mud when you have to spend your normal working window the next morning bailing your friends out of jail.
Side of the road, Mexico: Sometimes it's good to take a few weeks and drive the solar-powered vintage travel trailer that your awesome wife restored for a road trip to Baja. Sometimes the giant fishing nets left on the highway are going to get tangled around your trailer's axles and send you in search of a trustworthy local mechanic willing to tolerate your gringo Spanish. Sometimes you're going to wind up waiting for a while to get everything sorted out and back on the road. But with a decent GSM smartphone, international data plan and a decent tethering app, you're almost always going to be able to turn such an involuntary international pit stop into some productive work time.
Really bad music festival that shall remain unnamed, Colorado: Some bands just aren't ready for the big time. Put several such acts together in a small mountain town for a weekend of terrible jams that most other people seem only to be tolerating with the aid of mind-altering substances, and you've got a recipe for regret. Unless, of course, you brought that same solar-powered trailer so you can sneak off to put part of the weekend to good use while "Zeke and the Dump Mother Truckers" or whoever finish their set.
The Galapagos Islands: OK, so I'm not a total workaholic. I did take a week off from working for this once-in-a lifetime trip. Good thing, too, as this was one of the few places I've visited in the past decade where Internet access really was a drag on productivity. But when my daughter came down with a fever and spent much of one day on the islands sleeping it off, I was able to pull out my Nexus 7 and get a couple of interviews done via GChat. If I can telecommute from this great nature preserve, a place truly not designed for such activities, it should be possible to be productive from anywhere. For me at least.