Yahoo's clampdown on working from home has re-opened the debate on where people are most productive and the closely related issue of how to sustain a good work/life balance.

Last year, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, spoke out against homeworking, saying that "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home". Her remarks attracted a furious response. Richard Branson called it a "backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever".

In fact the reality is more subtle. Sitting at a desk is rarely the best way to create new ideas or close important sales. Hot-desking is now something of the norm as companies seek to encourage staff to spend more time with clients and less time pushing paper. People also want a more sustainable work/life balance. There are clear indications that this increases motivation, performance retention.

But rather than simply wanting to have her staff where she can see them, Ms Mayer believes that they should spend more time interacting with each other. She believes that people are more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. 

"if one of your objectives is to connect with what people value, then working from home enables staff to do just that"

There is certainly something to be said for the opportunity to spark ideas off colleagues. Zappos, the US online retailer is so keen for people to meet, share experiences and bounce new ideas off each other that it has closed off three of the four exits in its HQ to everyone has to funnel out of the same door. This is part of its pursuit of ‘serendipity’.

But does all this engagement need to be in the office? Online networks allow any number of people to bounce ideas off each other at once. This includes people in other countries and even other organisations. Similarly, if one of the key objectives of business is to connect with what people value, then working from home a few days a month enables staff to do just that.

Similarly, the idea that people choose between career advancement and a work/life balance appears increasingly out of step with how high performers see their lives. People want to be trusted to balance their home and work responsibilities. 

Netflix allows its people to decide how much time they take off, including holidays and possibly even mid-career breaks. The rationale is that people are mature enough to judge when they need to work to achieve certain objectives.

What is certain is that the way we interact and organise our time is going to change. But whether we’re working from home, in the office, on our tablets or out on the road, companies should seek to provide a sense of community and source of inspiration for their employees.


More on current trends in the workplace

You will find more insight and advice on current trends in employee engagement in Randstad's Workpocket HR Guide.