Impossible to Innovate and Telework? One Professor says YES. Find out why?

  All week the DorobekINSIDER will be talking about telework. Last month Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer outlawed telework at her company. The reaction to the news was swift on both sides. With some opponents calling the decision an attack on working mothers. But John Sullivan a Professor of Management at San Francisco State University says Mayer's decision had nothing to do with an attack on working mothers, but was a clear push for innovation. "Everyone has an opinion about this (Mayer's decision) and in this case almost 95% of people who comment or write about this get it wrong. This has nothing to do with telecommuting, it has to do with becoming more innovative," said Sullivan. Yahoo Example "Yahoo is in deep trouble. They will probably go out of business if something major doesn't happen. So the new CEO did what Google has already done, what Facebook and Apple have already done, which was, force employees to come to the campus. That's how innovation occurs. So if your drive is innovation and to improve the company by 10-20% you have to do something drastic," said Sullivan. "The proof is already there. Stock prices for Yahoo have gone up since the announcement. Innovation Trumps Efficiency "Innovation will trump productivity or efficiency every time. We've been living in an efficiency world for the past few years. But that is changing. If you look at the most valuable businesses out there Apple is second on the list and third is google. You know people aren't stupid. So they look at these firms and see their value. They can see that the only way to be like Apple is to be a serial innovator," said Sullivan. Serial Innovators "It comes down to money. The most successful companies do this. Google innovates in phones, searches, maps, you name it. Because the world has changed people copy whatever you do. You have to be a serial innovator because the competition is so intense," said Sullivan. Data Not Emotions "They have plenty of data that shows you can increase collaboration, innovation, speed of decision making if everyone comes to the same place. Telecommuters don't want to hear that. But it's not a trend against telecommuting. It is a trend towards innovation. Not every firm needs to do that, but if you notice Best Buy, which developed ROWE (Results Only Work Environment,) killed it, because they are in real trouble. They need people in the office to gear up and become innovative. Anything that gets in the way of innovation is gone. And it turns out that telecommuting doesn't help innovation," said Sullivan. "There was a 41% increase in productivity at Best Buy due to ROWE. And they cut the program, because a 41% increase in efficiency doesn't match the 100% margin in innovation." Innovation is the Function of 3 Things
  1. Learning - You learn more when you are surrounded by others.
  2. Collaboration.
  3. Funds.
Is It Possible To Innovate From Afar? "No," said Sullivan.
  • First of all it is the speed. If I do some great work and you are next to me, I can say, 'hey Chris come over here and look at this.' When you're not on site, I have to send an email. If I send you 50 emails a day you are going to get totally pissed off. But if I can contact you face-to-face we can probably bang out a solution right there. 
  • Second, serendipitous interactions. It turns out it's not that you'll run into other engineers/authors or whomever you work with on a daily basis. That happens already, this is you'll run into someone in HR, Finance, someone in a different division and you'll collaborate. They'll say, 'Chris we've already solved that problem, and here's how to do it.
Teleworker's Innovation Isn't Implemented "You would think that remote workers would know more, would be able to innovate more. But it turns out they can come up with creative ideas but they're never implemented and that's what innovation is. If you're at Apple, and you come up with a great idea, but the iPhone doesn't come off the assembly line, then you've failed. So it is serendipitous interactions between people you would normally work with or talk to that makes the difference," said Sullivan.  Check back tomorrow when we talk to the Fiscal Times' Suzanne McGee about ways to stay connected while teleworking. You can find all our telework week stories by searching key word: Telework Week. 

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