Balancing Act: Face time vs. flexibility

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Years ago, on the legal beat at The Miami Herald, I often collaborated with other reporters and editors in the newsroom. Now that I work at home, I miss the back-and-forth banter that can lead to ramped-up creativity -- and I can understand why companies are taking strong measures to step up collaboration.

The focus on collaboration has led Burger King to take down the walls between its cubicles. It triggered Yahoo's decision to bring remote workers back to the office. And in October, Apple even attributed executive management changes to a need to encourage more collaboration.

This intensified push for face-to-face interaction and information sharing comes at a time when workers are pushing for flexibility, begging the question: Can a collaborative culture be created without impeding work/life balance?

In a bold move, Yahoo argued in a memo banning remote working that collaboration happens when people work side-by-side. The backlash was swift and angry. But can anyone really argue that CEO Marissa Mayer is wrong to feel there is value in the conversations that arise when people are together in a room? There's a reason Google configured its offices with a lunch room extraordinaire. It's to keep people on campus and working together.

Most workplace experts believe the best practices in collaboration strike a happy medium.

Prerna Gupta, chief product officer at Smule, a music application developer, has come up with her ideal solution, which she recently explained in The New York Times. She believes employees should have the flexibility and proper tools to work when and where they want but that the office should remain a gathering place to communicate ideas. After she bought her company, Khush, she pushed for the same schedule she had previously instituted; employees come to the office three days a week for five hours, allowing for collaboration. The rest of the week they work from wherever they want.

Corporate futurist Christian Crews, principal of AndSpace Consulting in Fairfield, Ct., said requiring employees to work from the office isn't enough; collaboration takes management that is forward-thinking and open to embracing technology that facilitates brainstorming, along with office configuration that encourages run-ins. "It's about taking it beyond Post-it notes on a wall or huddling around a white board."


Cindy Krischer Goodman:


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