Who Will Win the Battle Over the Virtual Office?

For the last few years the internet and those whose work relies on it have been abuzz about how technology makes it possible to work from a virtual office. A small business can be based in the owner’s home without losing professionalism and large companies can reap huge benefits from having employees work from home. It saves money on office space and supplies, saves employees from stress and commuting time that bites into their efficiency and the flexibility means that a business can attract the workers who will be best at their job, even if they live farther away or have other time commitments, like most busy families.

Well, someone seems to have bucked the trend. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has told employees that it’s time to return to the office. Mayer pointed out in her memo that informal, unplanned interaction between people in the elevator or in the office kitchen is often the catalyst for the best creativity and innovation.

But she’s gotten a lot of criticism for the decision. ┬áMany say that this kind of inflexibility is what keeps women underrepresented in the highest levels of the work force while plenty of people who work from home tout their efficiency when working without the distractions of an office.

There are clearly pros and cons. The question seems to be whether or not Ms. Mayer is espousing this as a philosophy for life and as a cut and dry permanent policy or whether it’s a decision based on the specific situation at the specific company with specific employees. Mayer is a new CEO coming from outside to a company that’s known for its bloat. This may be the best way for her to see exactly what’s going on up close and she may loosen the policy little by little.

Thanks to technologies like VoIP, online fax, video-conferencing and email, working from home is completely viable for most office workers. But that doesn’t mean that it’s most comfortable or efficient. While some people may get three times the amount of work done at home, others need a built-in working environment with the ability to interact casually and think out loud with their colleagues. There’s no right answer but the question of which will be the default scenario is still up for discussion and debate.

Pushing the answer toward the virtual office side however, are plenty of new technologies still being developed. Team Space, for example, is a program that tries to recreate office dynamics all online. Each employee has their own “office space” labeled on a diagram of a customizable virtual office. There are numerous ways to talk to people and you can “knock” on someone’s “office door” or “close it” for privacy when you begin a conversation, just as you might in a real office. And now it’s available for iPad, yet another development that is contributing to the phenomenon of flexible work space.

Will these technologies be enough to make up for what Marissa Mayer was missing at Yahoo? Weigh in below!

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