Tumblr Employees Can No Longer Telecommute After $1 Billion Yahoo Acquisition

The Tumblr acquisition rekindles the debate on Yahoo's telecommuting ban. But does being 'in' or 'out' of the office really matter, so long as the work gets done?

Now that Yahoo has agreed to buy Tumblr for more than $1 billion, the blogging service’s employees will fall under CEO Marissa Mayer’s telecommuting ban. The acquisition has rekindled the debate over whether or not Mayer was right to put the kibosh on virtual office work.

We asked Kevin Kuske, chief brand anthropologist and general manager at turnstone, a Steelcase brand that helps small and emerging businesses create great workplaces, for his insights. He told us work is changing – we have moved from an agrarian age to an industrial age to an information age and, most recently, into a networked age of distributed work.

“Technology is fueling the ability to work anywhere. Our world is urbanizing with soon to be 50 percent – 75 percent of the population living in cities,” Kuske says. “Huge demographic changes are in play. The boomers are leaving the workforce, and GenY is entering in record numbers and reshaping the workplace. We are seeing the early signals of carbon footprint actually driving decisions and behavior. We no longer can afford to go to work and come home less healthy.”

Kuske went on to say that co-creation is ascending as the new dominant model of innovation, creativity and differentiation. In this world, being together and being apart both matter. As a truly mobile worker, Kuske says he will never be chained to a single location or a single desk again. The addiction of choice and locating work in the environment that best supports the work needed, has taken over.

With all these things in mind, Kuske tackles the rights and wrongs of telecommuting individually.

1. Coming together is important. Kuske says creativity, innovation and a strong sense of culture all build off of connections and trust. There are many ways to build these networks but certainly being together, having meaningful fun and having a common sense of purpose are high on that list.

“It is also important to ask, why do high performance mobile workers still come to the office?” he says. “They come for very simple reasons: people need people, people need technology and people need spaces that bring those two together in effective ways.”

2. Having choice and control is equally important. Our lives have become more complicated. Many of us need flexible schedules and/or our work demands it. In a 24/7 global world where and when is the office that everyone can come into … and have a life?

“Different types of work are best done in different settings, and all of those settings may not be on the corporate campus,” Kuske says. “Serendipity does not only happen with your coworkers. Often the cross-pollination of two very different situations is where the big idea comes from.”

3. Wellbeing demands we move more. Kuske says there is a world where we can go to work and come home healthier. The first step is exactly that. Take more steps, move more often.

“We like to talk about working in a palette of places and a palette of postures. This very simple approach not only improves health, but improves creativity and the chance for the unexpected ‘bump-in’ where a great idea is discovered,” Kuske says. “This palette should include places where the anthropologist can meet the programmers; the mathematicians can meet the linguists; where entrepreneurs can meet corporate innovators – both within the same company and without.”

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We have also studied highly effective and highly desirable entrepreneurial firms and found that they share some attributes, including:

  • Their personality comes through.
  • They have the freedom to be themselves.
  • There is passion for their craft.
  • A sense of community makes them part of something bigger.
  • They have meaningful fun.
  • They have a choice on how and where they want to work.
  • They take time to connect.

“Note the last two – it isn’t about being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the office that matters,” Kuske says. “It is about being part of something and having the freedom to work where the work is best.”

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