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I spent a career working for a high-tech developer and manufacturer. In the personnel management field, I soon learned about “skunk works” and their mission in life. Although the term was first applied to engineering and development groups, it has been broadly used for any group of employees who work in teams. Team work, rather than individual effort, has become the norm of productivity.  Images of a Thomas Edison at work in his laboratory are passe. 

One would imagine that the bulk of the work at an Internet Service Company such a Yahoo is of this very nature, yet in a progressive atmosphere, many employees have been allowed to work from home. This is a nice accommodating policy and is especially helpful for the Mom with child rearing duties as well. However, Yahoo just made a decision that such an arrangement hurts productivity. http://mashable.com/2013/02/24/yahoo-remote-workers/ Of interest, the decision was made by a female CEO.

Now there are plenty of stay-at-home jobs available. My neighbor works full time doing medical billing and never leaves the house. Companies also have individual contributor positions.  But the greater number of jobs involve face-to-face interaction with members of a team on a daily basis. This is especially true where the end product is achieved by creativity. In short, you can't run a skunk works with some of the skunks missing in action. You need to be smelling each other in the same room or work area.  Believe me, recognizing an odor or a voice over the telephone are two completely different level of being close.  (Pardon the smelling analogy.)

I found in my 35 year career with my company that the interpersonal communications were critical to success. I often found myself on a plane to California and North Carolina in the same week, as I had national responsibilities. There is no way I would have done an effective job using the phone.  Sometimes I did forget to use my Southern drawl after being out on the West Coast.

It is a dilemma in these days of progressive policies towards employees. More women are in the work force in responsible positions. They are mothers too. And yet, sometimes all the skunks need to be in the same room is you are going to be productive.  After all, it is a skunk works. 

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Comment by exedir on March 4, 2013 at 8:21am

This has to do with the difference between the job and the employee.  

I too have worked in this area, including my own study on work and groups.  The idea that labor is production is not passe, but in some cases, not necessary.  What is need is contribution of experience, base knowledge and problem identification and a method to solve the problem and overall, have a successful work experience for the employer which is not always the same for the employee or group of employees.  

Work groups, teams, can be successful even if they fail to accomplish their objectives if the participants can feel good about themselves and the overall experience as much as the results and outcome.

Many times if there is no financial element involved, then a group resolves its own rewards, or penalties.  If there is a financial gain involved for the participants then it will organize and resolve, again, its own rewards and penalties, which also can contribute to a bad overall result.

The idea of working together is one of the reasons we did not end up being lunch as our ancestors worked together to protect their community from predation and attack.

As one of my prior business acquaintances point out you have to swim with the sharks to survive.  Question is swim where and why sharks, and then schooling is a survival strategy. 

Comment by Mandy Muffin on March 3, 2013 at 9:31am

Some of this management science comes from the Japanese system called Kaizen.  http://www.kaizen.com/  It literally means "we are all this together."  The integrated system involves shared responsibility and common accountability.  An absent worker doing a job at home would have a tough time contributing in this system.  Workers change jobs within the group and and are all responsible for the completion of the task.  For example, assemblers in a Toyota plant work in teams of eight, switching jobs and having the authority to shut the line if a possible quality issue is present. 

I am sure there are plenty of jobs that can be done at home with no decrease in quality.  I gave the example of a medical billing service.  But the usual distinctions between classification of workers into professions or types of work is decreasing, rather than the norm, in modern day industry. 

Comment by MGDJ on March 3, 2013 at 7:35am

There is a move in most industries away from functional management culture into a project management culture.  This requires a matrix style organization that aren't as strict in their lines of authority.  Decentralization of authority and empowering employees engages them in their work.  This way, they are less likely to react as badly to cost cutting measures such as reduction of benefits.  Project management culture addresses stakeholder management, risk management, earned value and cost and schedule constraints.  With the technology available, organizations can manage projects across many lines of businesses and stay connected with their team through centralized cloud based servers.

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