How important to career success is “face time” in the office when compared with the same amount and quality of work done at home? Yahoo! and Best Buy recently received a considerable amount of press (traditional and online) regarding this issue. In both cases, the companies made changes to increase face time in an effort to improve communication and collaboration, as well as profits.

Yahoo! starts the trend

First to take the stage was Yahoo!. In late February, new CEO Marissa Mayer announced that Yahoo! employees may no longer work from home. This is the same Marissa Mayer who was hired last year while pregnant, came back to work after a two-week maternity leave and has a nursery next to her office (paid for with her own funds). The rationale for the new policy according to Yahoo HR:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Best Buy cancels ROWE

Best Buy was next. Early this month, the company proclaimed that its innovative flexible work program known as ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) was no more. Through this program, corporate employees could work flexible hours outside of the office. It was based on the premise that level of productivity was more important than number of hours worked, and location. According to Best Buy:

In the context of a business transformation, it makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done. It's 'all hands on deck' at Best Buy, and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.

Does this apply to law firms?

These company leaders clearly believe that collaboration is a critical driver of maximum productivity and results. Is the same true for law firm leaders? Probably not. In a company, measuring employee productivity can be difficult. In a law firm, it is easy to measure billable hours. Measuring productivity by revenue billed and collected is a darn good metric when profits are the desired result.

Many law firm leaders probably don’t care whether the billing is done at the office during regular office hours or done elsewhere. They don’t care much about collaboration, as long as the hours are billed and collected.

From an analytic perspective (favored by most lawyers), the debate over the wisdom of the new policies at Yahoo! and Best Buy is probably irrelevant to lots of law firms. However, there is still a lesson to be learned. These developments should be a wake-up call for lawyers to reassess the value of face time in the office.

Perception is reality

These two prominent corporations, and probably many more, perceive that collaborative face time is very important. That same is likely to be true of some law firm leaders. A lawyer who exceeds a firm’s billable-hour targets while working outside the office may be perceived as less of a team player than a colleague who bills the same number of hours while in the office. On the face of it, that doesn’t make much sense. But in fact perception is extremely important.

Liking and trusting your colleagues

Also crucial but often underestimated are the “soft” benefits of collaborative face time. The legal profession is relationship-based. This is the rule for clients andco-workers. Successful attorneys have clients and colleagues who like them and trust them. It takes sufficient face time to create that relationship with colleagues.

Plus, associates who hope to make partner need at least one good mentor.Face time is required to create and nurture this important relationship. Finally, there’s office “intelligence.” In order to know who’s “up” and who’s “down” -- and why – a lawyer needs to spend face time with colleagues.

Showing up is a big part of the battle

Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in work/life balance and well aware that flexible hours and working from home can be very important for many who strive for better balance. But make this choice with your eyes wide open. Carefully calculate the benefits of “showing up” at times, rather than working remotely.