Does Yahoo’s work from home ban make sense?

yahoo ceo banI’ve worked from home in various forms for a variety of companies so in a way I get Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer ban on working from home. Sometimes the work-from-home employee just feels distant from the action going on in the office.

Coming into an office for meetings, spending time with your coworkers tossing ideas around, socialising with colleagues and knowing who’s getting engaged, having a baby, breaking up with their boyfriend — these are vital elements for a creative working life and central to feeling part of a team.

I’ve been on both ends of this set-up. I’ve worked for a manager who worked from home half the week and the office felt the absence keenly. I also know what it means to feel cut off from the buzz of the office.

Mayer’s move is being called “anti-woman”. In truth I’d characterise it as more “anti-family” (don’t dads occasionally work from home too?). More damning though is that it’s a just a little, y’know, ’90s. The modern business world doesn’t revolve around sitting in a cubicle and answering a telephone with a curlycue cord.

People DO need to collaborate, but they’re doing that everywhere, with shared documents in a cloud, via smartphone, via social networking. This week BritMums has held two Google hangouts featuring bloggers from all over the UK, talking about the royal pregnancy and chatting live with Marco Pierre White.

Worst of all, Mayer’s edict demonstrates a lack of trust in employees, many of whom I imagine are committed, passionate employees. If they aren’t, it’s her job to get rid of them. It’s also her job to determine if some positions can’t be done from a remote location.

By saying no one can work from home, she’s going against study after study that shows flexible working arrangements make people more productive. She’s also moving counter to the desire of all employees (with families or not) to strike a positive work-life balance at a time when work increasingly bleeds into our evenings and weekends.

For her own situation, Mayer has built a nursery next to her office so she can bring her young son to work. Good for her in realising that a CEO does need to be on deck and available. But that move, coupled with the work-from-home ban, leaves a none-too-flattering impression of her attitude toward working parents: childcare problems are for the little people.

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about travel, family and London life at Jenography.net. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

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8 Responses to Does Yahoo’s work from home ban make sense?

  1. sarahhillwheeler 28 February 2013 at 10:02 #

    Brill post. Balanced. I think you strike the right note completely. I’ve written on my own experience of asking for flexible working – you can rally all the arguments you want, but it really does boil down to trust and the ethos of your particular workpplace.
    Having experienced both sides of the coin too, I wouldn’t personally want to be 100% remote, but it can work, as can working from home some of the time. To “ban” home working whilst having your own creche next door, as you say, sends out a message of inflexibility. Sad, really. As you say, so 1990s. I’d like to see Mayer blazing a trial!

    • Jennifer Howze 28 February 2013 at 16:05 #

      Sarah

      I find 100% remote doesn’t work either. I once asked a boss to be able to do my entire job at home and he said, “Well, I’m sure we can arrange it, but do you really want that?” It made me take a hard look at what I was hoping to get out of the position.

  2. Laura (Chez Mummy) 01 March 2013 at 07:01 #

    Great post and very well balanced. It’s the blanket ban that annoys me; yes, some people can’t work from home with the job they do but others will be able to get more done at their computer while having breakfast than they might if they spent an entire morning in an office. It’s nice to be part of the office ‘buzz’ but let’s not forget that employees can waste time just as easily in the office as they could at home too.

    And I didn’t know about her office nursery. That’s really infuriated me now!

  3. Kate on Thin Ice 01 March 2013 at 16:01 #

    Well said. I hate how so many parents (and mums in paritcular) are cut off from contributing in the workplace by employers not looking at flexible options. Those that are employed often have to resort to telling lies about normal events like having a sick child at home to keep their jobs. If we have ICT options, why not use them to enable all skills to be contributed towards the greater good? Here’s to bosses who recruit the right staff that they can trust to work with passion whether in the office and/or from home.

  4. Michelle Garrett 02 March 2013 at 09:28 #

    I loved this piece Jen, very thought provoking. I have mixed feelings about Ms Yahoo’s decision. Like you I think ‘good for her’ that she’s built a childcare next to her work because that’s a start towards compromise.

    I have worked full time in an office and my home life suffered. I worked part time in an office and my home life suffered. but now that I work at home, my work often suffers so I can understand why an employer might prefer me to work in their office!

    However, I think the best of both worlds for me is actually working from home, but with very carefully managed priorities. When I stay focused and compartmentalise my time effectively, I get LOADS done for both work and home. I work best with the flexibility to say ‘today I will work for six hours because tomorrow I need to run errands for three hours,’ or whatever.

    Perhaps the best answer is to teach time management skills to people from an early age.

    • Laura (Chez Mummy) 02 March 2013 at 12:34 #

      Michelle, that’s a good idea and I wish I had the flexibility that you do with your work. It can be easy to waste time regardless of whether you’re in an office or at home; good time management and organisation skills are an absolute must, as is keeping workers motivated (which I can’t imagine Ms. Mayer has achieved with her memo!)

  5. Chene (Why is her so stroppy?) 02 March 2013 at 19:02 #

    It’s just such a wrong message to be sending. Sure I go and tweeze hairs and repack the fridge etc to distract myself, but in an office it would be the biscuit tin or making tea if I wanted to be distracted.

    When I’m on deadline and working on something interesting I can work in the middle of a busy street and not be distracted.

    The down side is more that I feel a bit lonely sometimes, but I only have to remember some of my spectacularly boring former colleagues to remind myself that I’m actually better off chatting to myself.

    It should be about trust and the right person for the job – surely.

  6. Expat Mum 04 March 2013 at 19:25 #

    I blogged about this recently. While I hate the hypocrisy of her being able to bring her baby in and see it all day if she wants to, I also think that there has to be more to this decision. First of all, she wouldn’t have made it on her own; it would have come from a committee of top execs, probably mostly men. Also, it would based on productivity reports, comparing it to hours being logged versus work actually being done etc. If they’re at all interested in the PR of Yahoo, they should explain why they came to this decision.
    I would also be interested to hear what employment lawyers have to say – there have to be quite a few people who took the job specifically because they were allowed to telecommute. Where do they stand?