Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Morning Brief: MWC is decidedly short on big news so far; new, low price point tablets launched by PC makers; thoughts on the home office, from my home office

While mobile tech companies are trying to give the impression that big things are happening at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, this year's event seems to be short on real news.

Probably the biggest introduction so far has been H.P.'s Slate 7 which got everyone's attention because of it low price point – $170. But anyone excited by the initial news has tempered their enthusiasm once the specs came in and got their hands on it. It's a cheap tablet that runs Android, OK, let's more on.

Lenovo, too, has introduced a cheap Android tablet – three, in fact. This shouldn't be surprising as many of the PC manufacturers are simply assemblers and with cheap parts available, why not make you own cheap tablet. That pretty much is leaving the field open to Samsung to launch more interesting products, such as its even Galaxy Note 8.0 which is essentially a smartphone that designed for the person who has grown to be 20-feet tall.

Even the MWC's own app for the show is a bit drowsy. GSMA Official is the official app for Mobile World Live and Mobile World Congress and it was built by the Florida company GenieMobile. The app comes in iOS (universal), Android and Windows versions. It is interesting to note that the app has zero reviews inside the Apple App Store, but a few reviews inside the other stores – the situation is usually reversed. The biggest complaint about the app, other than crash reports, it that it looks like an iPhone app.

The real surprise the the publications stand inside the app: a handful of magazines provided PDFs of their publications for the app – how 20th century of them.

Earlier today the WSJ posted a story that claims that Samsung is such a big player in the Android world that Google is worrying about the South Korean tech giant. It's not much of a story, however, as the reporter, Amir Efrati fails to quote anyone from either company, and finally has to track down a consultant who says that there "is a threat from Samsung to Google that is real." Thanks for that.

These kinds of stories are becoming more common. It is as if a reporter gets an idea for a story, makes a couple of calls, gets no actual confirmation for their idea, but proceeds anyways. Eventually these stories are scrapped by tech websites and the story then sounds more factual – after all, everyone is reporting it, too.

Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer has generated a lot of online discussion for her mandate that Yahoo home office employees return to the office to work. I've been surprised by the level of support Mayer's move has received from some who believe that it is in the best interest of the company to have its employees work together in an office environment in order to foster better cooperation and innovation.

But I find this all a very bad idea – not because I don't like the idea of Yahoo's employee's working in corporation offices, but because it fails to take into account the very reason companies allow home officing in the first place.

Remote officing is generally allowed to help employees become more productive, or to entice employees to join the company even though they do not live in the area of the office(s) of that company, or as a temporary solution such as after the birth of a child or other personal situation.

The point is the retention of very valuable employees. When one no longer values their employees, or has no idea who is vital to their company, it is easier to make broad decisions such as this one.

At one company I worked for the publisher forced all their employees to home office under the assumption that this would cut costs. Then, a few years later, ordered all the employees back into an office. Both moves were disruptive and caused unnecessary turmoil. It also proved terribly costly and a waste of time.

The reason a company, whether a publisher or tech company, has an office in the first place is to centralize functions, save resources, build a creative, collaborative environment, etc. These are good reasons and may be absolutely necessary in certain situations (IT, is a good example).

But rather than draw with broad stokes, a company would be better off continuing to accommodate their employees while recruiting future employees for the office. In this way the transition is gradual and turnover can be minimal. But by putting one's foot down and making an inflexible rule about officing the company is setting up for a fall. The first time the company wants to recruit a potential employee that it considers vital to the success of the company, and that employee is miles from the office, and they allow the employee to home office (even for a day or two a week) they will create resentment with those that lost their home office and began coming back into the office.

Being inflexible is not a good sign no matter whether you force employees into an office, or force them out of the office and into their homes. It is disrespectful, and ultimately counterproductive. Watch, a few years from now there will be a small item on one of the tech sites that says that Yahoo has modified its office rule, and in certain cases it will allow home officing.