Everyone Will Want to Do It

Everyone Will Want to Do It

By Scott Berkun

Scott Berkun is a former Microsoft manager who worked at WordPress from 2010 to 2012. From The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work (Jossey-Bass). ©2013

Remote work is a kind of trust, and trust works two ways. Recently Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banned remote work from her company, claiming it made people less productive. She might have been right: In her company, people may have abused the trust that remote work grants employees.

Some employees abuse free office supplies from the copy room. Others lie about taking sick days. Every benefit granted can be used to perform better work, or it can be abused. The benefit itself rarely has much to do with it.

If someone who works for you wants to work remotely or use a new email tool or brainstorming method, little is lost in letting him or her try it out. If his or her performance stays the same or improves, you win. If it goes poorly, you still win, as you've demonstrated your willingness to experiment, encouraging everyone who works for you to continue looking for ways to improve their performance. They become allies in making you look good, because you're simply willing to try. If someone suggests thirty-minute instead of sixty-minute meetings, what is there to lose? If the experiment fails, you end it and try another.

But despite what they say, most people fear new ideas. They instinctively defend the old, no matter how frustrated they are with it. A common refrain I've heard is, “If I let one person do [insert possible good thing here], everyone will want to do it,” as if somehow the pillars of an organization will crumble if anything ever changes. The oldest, largest companies today all began with ambitious youth, big ideas, and high thresholds for change. It's the ambition and flexibility that enabled them to do well enough to grow old in the first place. If you want longevity, you can't just bet on tradition—you have to continually invest in the future.

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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.