Last week, when I heard the news that Yahoo’s C.E.O., Marissa Mayer had decided to end the company’s work at home policy, it hit a nerve. As a home worker myself, although not for Yahoo (but for a company just as large), I had to go digging for the reason behind Ms. Mayer’s decision. It didn’t take me long to find it. It seems her decision to terminate the Yahoo work at home policy was based on data gathered by reviewing company VPN records. Without going into the more arcane details about VPNs, they allow workers to access company resources when they are in a remote location (like home, a hotel room, Starbucks, etc.).
Apparently, Ms. Mayer didn’t like what she saw in the VPN data report. Home workers were not accessing the network with the same fervor as their cubicle dwelling counterparts. There was no mention of any other indicators of declining productivity – such as missed delivery dates, delayed projects or late reports. (That may well have been the case, but it was not mentioned in any of the online articles I reviewed.) It appears that quite a number of Yahoo work-at-homers simply were not, well…working. Who could blame Ms. Mayer for doing what she did. Confronted with such data, she hit the problem with a large hammer – gather your laptops you work-at-home slackers, and report to the office tomorrow at 9, and don’t be late (or something to that effect).
Now I know what some of you are thinking…those of you who go to work every day to do things like put out fires, arrest criminals, teach children, build roads, attend the sick, minister to the masses, cut lawns, plow fields, drive the big rigs, and sell beauty products door to door – you people are probably saying to yourselves, “those cry baby corporate drones are a bunch of whiners. Somebody makes them change out of their bathrobes and report to work in an office, and they act like it’s the end of the world.”
In some cases, I might agree with such thought, as some of us are whiners. But most work at homers, including myself, will tell you that spending your day chained to a computer in you own home isn’t as inviting as non-home workers believe it to be.
Some years ago, when I told someone that I worked at home, I would get one of two reactions, one being, “you are so lucky. I wish I could find a job like yours,” or, “oh I see,” wink-wink, “you’re working from home,” with the wink-wink emphasis on the word ‘working’ – catch my drift. As years passed, and more and more companies allowed, and in fact encouraged, workers to work from their homes, the novelty apparently wore off. Today when I tell someone that I work from my home I rarely get a response of any kind.
So here is what I have found so far, based upon several years of home work:
First – I find that I work longer hours than I did in my cubicle back at Corporate. Since I have been relieved of the time consuming task of preparing for, and driving to, an office, I can spend that time…working. And for the record, I have never worked in my bathrobe.
Second – home work is lonely. Occasional face to face time with co-workers is mentally healthy. Everyone needs to complain now and then, and we need someone to listen to us and nod, and tell us that they have been feeling the same way about the way management has been off-loading more work on those of us left after the last layoff…blah, blah, blah…you don’t get much time to complain sitting in a room by yourself with a laptop.
Third – and this is a huge giveback to The Man that flies completely under the corporate radar: Nobody gets sick anymore. Or at least they don’t where I work. Back days of yore, before I worked at home, I could spend those occasional days when I didn’t feel ‘up to par’ on my couch, feet propped up with a box of tissues in hand, watching daytime TV. It was called, ‘calling in sick’. Not so today. It is not that people don’t get sick, of course they do, but the bar has been raised on what warrants complete and utter absence from work.
Last week, shortly after I logged into work from my home office, an email popped up from a co-worker. The subject line read: “Still not over the flu – will be checking email throughout the day.” That email arrived a little before 7 AM. I knew that my co-worker had been suffering with the flu for a few days, but every day she dutifully logged it to check her email, and every day she continued to ‘work through’. I called her at 4 PM and she was still online.
“I thought you were going to get some rest today,” I said, “you must be feeling better.”
“Feel like crap,” she responded, “I’m going to lie down in a little while.”
One email had led to the next, then a series of instant message exchanges with our London office, followed by a conference call with the development group in San Francisco, and the entire day had melted away.
So there you have it – my communique from the work-at-home front line. I am not here to defend Ms. Mayer’s lay-about, home workers. I certainly don’t have enough information to say her decision was wrong. Indeed it seems she had a very good reason for herding the sheep back into the corporate fold. I am wondering though, if the same work habits that made these people ineffective home workers will simply follow them into the office.