Can remote presence help Yahoo?

This is something I’ve been asked about in the days since I wrote about how Yahoo’s remote work ban shows they’ve lost faith in their management and staff.

Full disclosure, which I didn’t make in the first piece, but also have not attempted to hide: I work for a startup that makes remote presence technology. If you’re not familiar with this term, think Avatar, version 0.001. However, the causal link for me goes in the other direction: I joined the company because I’ve spent years researching collaboration and communication in work teams, both local and distributed. I already knew about many of the challenges and opportunities of remote work, and was excited to join a team working on a solution.

Yahoo’s internal memo is right on the money about the value of informal communication:

Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.

We at Suitable Technologies couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Remote presence products such as Beam are designed for exactly this purpose — giving remote team members a presence and opportunity to participate in activities they would normally miss, such as hallway conversations and unplanned discussions.

However, I disagree strongly with the memo’s next sentence:

Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.

Most attempts to research remote work have shown the opposite, in fact — something I discuss in my previous post.

But back to the original question: Can remote presence help Yahoo?

Yes, definitely. But maybe not right now.

By that I mean two things:

1. Remote presence absolutely could have helped prevent them from getting to this point. Better communication, shared understanding, awareness, and informal interaction are critical to building trust and effective teams. These are some of the main benefits of remote presence in an office environment.

2. They have bigger issues to sort out, for which remote presence probably can’t help. Yahoo clearly believes their culture is broken. I suspect what’s really at work here is an attempt to shake things up and create some new energy. It’s a risky move, but I’m not sure how many alternatives they had. Once things have stabilized a bit, remote presence can be a valuable part of their new culture, and deliver the benefits of remote work that many other companies already enjoy.

If you think remote presence might help you or your team, or if you’re just interested in knowing more about Suitable Technologies and Beam remote presence, please visit our site to learn more.