Recently, Yahoo Inc’s CEO Marissa Mayer announced that she is abolishing the Yahoo work from home policy and is insisting that Yahoo workers report to the office. I’d include a link, but it’s easy enough to find with a simple web search. She may have been a trend setter, as Best Buy is also ending its work from home program as well. As an IT professional, as well as a member of the Human Resources Department for my employer, I have strong opinions on the idea of the home office, and, as feelings often do, my feelings have evolved as time has gone by.
When I first had a job where I might have had the opportunity, I was genuinely excited about the possibility of doing work from home. I got my first taste, on a small scale, sometime around 1997. I worked all day, and for overtime, took a side project consisting of data analysis regarding the frequency and appearance of defective material. I enjoyed that project, and it was a great opportunity. My wife worked nights, so once my kids were in bed, I’d sit down in front of my pc with a 3.5” floppy disk and piles of paper that I brought home with me and I’d sift through the data. This went on for weeks, for about three hours a night. I still love a good data mining project, and this one was a real challenge, which meant I liked it even more. It was at that time that I became a believer in the work from home concept-after all, I could get so much done and I was certain I was extremely efficient.
Now, if you will, fast forward with me to 2000, when I was finally in a position to work from home on a regular basis, for full days, if necessary. I attempted to work from home on several occasions, and finally gave up. The reason was simple: my wife was frazzled, we had a 4 and a 2 year old, both full of energy-like 3 energy drinks in an hour type of energy. My wife, still working nights, would see my being home as an opportunity, a second set of hands, and an additional caregiver. Despite my best efforts to explain that she needed to think like I wasn’t available, she simply couldn’t help herself. So as I was attempting to work, she’d put the kids down for naps, and leave to run errands. Of course, 20 minutes later, someone would wake up. Or she’d ask me to put a load of laundry in, or watch the kids for 15 minutes while they ate, or any one of 100 other things. Now before I get any grief over this, let me be clear-all those things are important, very important. But ultimately so was the S.O.P. I was getting ready to write. I found myself working from home less and less, and only did so occasionally after a few weeks.
Of course, no one stays in the same stage of life forever, and my 2 year old is now 15, my wife works days and no one in my house takes naps anymore, not that I wouldn’t like to once in a while. So those distractions are gone, and I’ve even got an office at home now, so I could easily lock myself in and lock the world out. And I do, on a snowy day, or when a contractor or repairman has to come to my house, or I have a mid-day appointment. Yet, despite the improvement from the deplorable work conditions I suffered when working from home in 13 years ago (sarcasm intended), I still tend to avoid working from home.
It’s simple really. I have learned to enjoy and appreciate the face time. It certainly helps that I have a boss that doesn’t like to use email. Don’t get me wrong-email, twitter and texting all have their place. And conference calls, both audio and video, can take the place of meetings, and often give cost savings. All of those things are true, and I’ve been known to get wordy in the emails (hard to imagine, I know), but I think that often the best ideas, agreements, understanding and resolution come from a face to face meeting. The opportunity to see who’s contributing and who isn’t, and who’s got an idea that should be tugged out of their brain, and even who “gets it”-the phone line just doesn’t have the bandwidth to carry all of that synergy. I guess, in summary, that I mostly agree with Ms. Mayer.
Now, if I’m working on a project, and I’ve got to lock the world out, I certainly will take advantage of that desk at home, and get the work done. Quantity is easy to measure, and there are days when I work from home where I get more volume in 2 hours than I would at 2 days in my office. Effectiveness is more difficult to measure, but I have no doubt I am more effective in my office, and the collective effectiveness of a full team working in the office can be tremendous.
I’m reminded a little bit of the presentation given by Doug Whittle about generational differences at HR2013. I’m guessing if my children would read this entire blog entry, which is less likely than them giving up their phones voluntarily, that they would fight for the efficiency of electronic communications. Those of you with teens know what I’m talking about, you can put ten teens in a room and they don’t look at or talk to each other. I don’t know if that generation will ever grow to appreciate the value of verbal and visual communications, but they will need to find a way, with or without technology, to get the same effect.
Finally, a quick right turn to talk about my grandmother. In the 1930’s and 40’s, just out of high school, she worked for a shirt manufacturer, where she worked all day turning collars, buttoning buttons, etc. To make more money, in an age where she was paid for pieces, not per hour, she carried piles of shirts from the factory and worked extra hours from home. I never thought of my grandmother as a trend setter, but apparently she was-working from home 80 years ago. I wonder what she would think of Yahoo’s new policy?