Recently Yahoo and Best Buy announced that they would end telecommuting and require their employees to come back and work in the office.  Both companies have been on a downward trend and are in need of a turn around.  The justification for the change was the need for collaboration and innovation.  So the question is, can you telecommute and be innovative?

I went back and looked at our research to see where innovation happens.  It happens everywhere, in offices, in laboratories, in fields, and at home in garages and even in kitchens.  Location, while important to innovation, is not a key factor.  Two factors to innovation do stand out in the debate about innovation and telecommuting.  They are communicating with others and being able to work without too many distractions.  Not being able to focus on your innovation can keep you from success.

Having worked from home and in the office, I have seen some advantages of both.  For example, there are some strong advantages in being able to collaborate with your team if they are all in one location.  Everyone can get together quickly and discuss opportunities and problems as they occur.  Also, while conference calls can be a wonderful tool, there is something about face to face communication that is very important.  Some great ideas have sprung from people scribbling on a napkin over lunch.

However, one of the most frustrating things about working at the office is the number of distractions that occur when people just stop by, or so called emergencies pop up.  I can’t count the number of times that I have had to work late or on weekends so I could get a few hours of uninterrupted time.  Uninterrupted time is often a catalyst to innovation.

All of this being said, my conclusion is that while on the surface it may appear that ending telecommuting will help innovation, the real issue is creating an environment that fosters innovation regardless of the location.  If a company does not have an innovative culture, or has a failing business model, the employees location will not really effect innovation.  So, as you look to be more innovative individuals and organizations, don’t focus on where you innovate but work on rewarding and promoting innovation.  That is where you will make it happen.

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