Not Invented Here syndrome (NIH) is the guilty pleasure that tempts engineering teams into creating bespoke approaches to problems that have already been solved. Even having your eyes opened to the temptation doesn’t immunize you from it. So, how do you know whether a bespoke solution warrants the effort or if it’s just plain hubris?
When Marissa Meyer decided to suspend the telecommuting privilege at Yahoo!, I guessed that she had one of two good reasons for it—either a) nobody knew anymore what the rules were, and there were many rogue team members who maybe weren’t doing much of anything, or b) that Yahoo! had lost control of its culture to such a great extent that she felt it necessary to hit the reset button, which it seems she is doing anyways. Those would be the two reasons that we would consider rescinding Alley’s policy of hiring good people wherever they are and allowing our NYC-based employees to work from wherever they are as much as they like.
I respect Yahoo!’s decision to ban telecommuting because every company has to make its own decisions about its own culture, but I have always considered such decisions to be entirely specific to the company in question. No two companies are much alike, management structure and output aside. So I was surprised by the extent to which this debate became about telecommuting writ large. After the first wave of backlash to Yahoo!’s decision, today’s news sees a fairly broad defense of it, with Michael Bloomberg weighing in against telecommuting in general, and this unfortunate crock of hyperbole appearing in VentureBeat. Telecommuting is dead! Tell that to Automattic, a booming company whose model of team distribution is an inspiration to ours.
Although we do have a central office, we handle the culture and collaboration issues which Mayer and Bloomberg are both concerned by decentralizing communication as much as possible. We gently shepherd conversations out of the office and into the chatroom. As one of our remote workers noted, we could always take side conversations into #hallway or #cafeteria.
Yes, it’s hard. Building a company culture around people who don’t see each other every day is hard, but if we only hired developers who can commute to our office Manhattan, we’d have a monoculture, and those are only too common at tech companies. We didn’t happen into having a distributed team, and we don’t support it because we have to, or because it helps us cut costs—we do it because it makes us better.