Firstly, Yahoo's chief executive, Marissa Mayer has announced that she's banning staff from remote working. The idea behind this announcement is simple - that "some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings". This is absolutely spot on, but the next sentence in the leaked internal memo is more problematic: "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home".
Don't get me wrong, working remotely has some special challenges, but they are by no means insurmountable. There's lots of tips for people working remotely which will turn into a future blog post at some point (I'm running an internal training about how to do it in a couple of weeks), but three simple rules are stay connected, set a routine and take care of yourself.
The second decision is one by Ubuntu to move Ubuntu Developer Summits to a purely online meeting, ditching the physical meeting. This misses the point of conferences. If we simply wanted to listen to talks and presentations, why meet up at all? Webcasts have been around for the last 20 years, and yet conferences still exist. The most important part of a conference isn't the talks, it's the "hallway track" - it's the ability for people to meet up, chat and socialise. Be this an impromptu meeting in the corridor, or over a few nice beers. Without this component, why schedule a time at all? Simply publish a list of talks over the coming 3 months, and anyone can pick the best time for them to attend.
At Collabora, many of our engineers work remotely. One of the perks we offer is the ability to attend conferences, and to "touch base" and visit and work from one of the offices. It is important to recognise the importance of collaboration physically and it shouldn't be discounted the way Ubuntu has done. But it should not be seen as a silver bullet to an organisation, like Yahoo seem to be implying. Both extremes are wrong, and a balance must be struck to ensure the best outcome for productivity and innovation.
(Title from an iconic 80s song)