Working from home alone is the real culprit // Tony Hsieh on Fortune

Liz Presson • 3 November 2014

By Tony Hsieh

FORTUNE — Much attention has been given to Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer and her decision to ban her employees from telecommuting. While the initial reaction may have fomented controversy, the truth is that her reasoning is in line with our philosophy here at Zappos: More face time in the office can have a huge positive impact in helping build company culture.

In my book Delivering Happiness, I talk about how we think of our brand at Zappos in terms of the 3 C’s: clothing, customer service, and company culture. That last C — company culture — isn’t just something we think is important. It’s the No. 1 priority for the company, and it’s actually core to our business strategy. Our belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff — like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand or business — will just be a natural byproduct.

With about 1,500 employees now, we’ve been in business for nearly 14 years and have spent a lot of time thinking about how to continuously improve our company culture. We do things like playing the “face game,” where every time an employee logs into our backend systems, he or she is automatically shown the face of a random employee, along with the accompanying bio.

There are doors on all four sides of the building I’m working in. The employees of the building’s previous tenant went through whichever door was most convenient. We actually lock all the doors from the outside and force employees to walk around the entire building to get to the front door. Even though it’s more inconvenient, we believe this helps our culture because it creates more opportunities for employees to have serendipitous interactions by colliding with each other in the main lobby.

Two years ago, we announced that we would be taking over the former Las Vegas city hall. Now that we are about six months away from completing construction, our workforce is actually split with about 200 employees in a temporary office in downtown Vegas, and the majority of our employees in our soon-to-be ex-headquarters in an office park in Henderson (a suburb of Vegas). Over the past year, I’ve been spending most of my time out and about downtown because I live there and also because of my involvement in DowntownProject.com. So when a Zappos employee saw me comment on a CNBC interview saying that we don’t encourage working from home, he emailed me the following:

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I wanted to openly share with you a discussion my team had about that. People (including myself) immediately jumped to “well, that’s pretty hypocritical.” You take a lot of your meetings from home and people at Zappos see you less and have fewer opportunities for serendipity for you. I know it is more convenient for your time and meetings to have them at your place. But you also talk about how it is not about convenience that we have only one door into buildings. We want you to walk a little bit farther so you have a chance to bump into people. I would encourage you to see if you can do more of your meetings from Zappos’ downtown offices instead of your apartment … People want to see you around more and I think that will help.

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Here was my response:

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I think if more employees held meetings in their homes, invited folks that were interested in Zappos or downtown to come into their homes, etc., I actually would be all for that and think that it would be a good thing for our culture and brand. I think getting to know your coworkers in a more personal setting is great. I think being out and about in the downtown community is actually our next evolution, and I think it may actually be better than being in an office, or perhaps it should be split 50/50.

Community >= Office > Working from home alone

Or actually probably the better way to think about it is in terms of collisions and motion. Out in the community you’ll probably have more collisions and move around more than in the office.

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