Apr 10, 2013

Marissa Mayer, Telecommuting and Workplace Flexibility

This is not a sponsored post but the link to the telecommuting benefits video was sent to me by OnlineMBA.com

So by now we're all aware of Marissa Mayer, new CEO of Yahoo, who has banned working from home. Reaction has mostly been negative. Richard Branson notably disagreed with it.

Donald Trump tweeted his support for Mayer's policy, but he has been in the minority. So either most people value workplace flexibility, or perhaps many secretly agree with Mayer but are hesitant to voice up and align themselves with someone like Trump. (And in fact others have written that his praise is probably not helpful for her)

Quite often when a woman rises to a position of power, there is surprise and disappointment that she doesn't do more to champion women, flexibility, etc. But the women who rise to the top are much like the men who rise to the top: driven, ambitious and very hard-working, with little understanding or tolerance for those who are not.  Why should they be otherwise? How would they have reached where they are, if they were otherwise?

Lionel Shriver wrote a great column in Slate about Margaret Thatcher, arguing that these women are in fact good for feminism:

Margaret Thatcher was a real feminist. Not for what she said but for what she did. She did not pursue justice for her gender; women's rights per se was clearly a low priority for her. She was out for herself and for what she believed in. If we had more feminists like Thatcher, we'd have vastly more women in Parliament and the US Senate, as well as more trees and fewer tedious television talk shows. More ''feminists'' like Thatcher, the first woman to lead a major Western democracy, and young women would be clamouring to be called one, too.
(Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/muscular-feminist-the-sisterhood-despised-20130409-2hjc4.html#ixzz2Q3FX1pZr)

My own immediate response to Mayer's ban on working from home was annoyance. She is having a two-week maternity leave, no doubt employs a nanny, and is planning to set up a nursery in her office. Three points here, obviously.

One: It would be nice if the occasional high-level women took longer maternity leave so the idea is not perpetuated that this type of leave is a 'holiday' and taking longer than 3 months means you're not committed to your job. Her choice though, of course. I've nothing against the short maternity leave itself - her child will be more than fine.

Two: It's much easier to manage work without flexible options like working from home when you have the top job with high pay and perks that other women in your company don't have.

Three: the nursery in the office: how is working from home worse than baby-ing at the office? I know, at the office you are "present" as Mayer argues everyone has to be. But how "present" are you going to be while settling or feeding a baby?

My second reaction was doubt about my first reaction. After all, Marissa Mayer is not a newbie or an idiot. She's an extremely experienced high-level manager. I have no idea what the culture at Yahoo is like; I can imagine a company that has stagnated a little and may be struggling with morale and engagement. Perhaps in that context some changes need to be made. I am sure she's made this decision from a smart place.

I can't speak for everyone, but here's how telecommuting benefits me:

  • I don't want to work full-time from home. I prefer being in the office, as a rule.
  • Working from home is fantastic for getting the sort of work done where you need to concentrate and work uninterrupted.
  • When I work from home it's usually because I have a specialist's appointment or something on at the school (and no, I don't attend every special event at school). On those days I love the chance to work at home, because it means I can prepare a slow-cook dinner, do a load of laundry, walk the dog and pick up my kids soon after 5pm, and still get a full day's work in.

I would love to work one day a week from home, as a regular thing. The main reason I don't is my internet connection is not reliable enough or fast enough to make it work on a regular basis.
And there's a cat.

Also, because despite the hassles and cost of commuting, I do like going into the office and working there.

But plenty of people can and do work full-time from home and this has been around long enough that we know it works.

For those who do predominantly technical or phone-based roles, there's no reason why they can't work at home, as long as the support and tech is there, and they are accountable for producing good work.

It should go without saying, if you work from home you still need childcare. That's a big one, and essential for both getting enough work done and keeping the trust and respect of your colleagues. You have to put in a really strong day's work if you want people to trust you with it and believe you're not sitting on the couch watching TV.

(Perhaps at this point picture in your head an image from The Oatmeal's brilliant cartoon 'Why working from home is both awesome and horrible')

Online MBA have put together a short video about the benefits of working from home. These include increased productivity and morale, and reduced costs. You can see the video and read the transcript here.

I am a big believer in working from home and in workplace flexibility (with accountability).  I enjoy my job and my workplace and I have a lot of respect for my manager and boss at work. I generally only work 8.30 to 5, but I'm available on the mobile anytime (including my day off) and I will regularly work overtime on projects including some nights at home. I really, really appreciate the flexibility I am allowed to get my work done in a way that suits both me and the company.

For an opposing case supporting Mayer's stance, read here.

What do you think? Do you / could you / would you work from home?

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