During this past week, Yahoo has made headlines with its new ban on work-at-home scenarios for employees. It raised a lot of hullabaloo, especially for working parents. According to an article on Mashable.com on 26 February 2013,
The move, as described in a company-wide memo leaked to Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, is intended to boost “collaboration and communication” at the Internet company by requiring all employees to physically report to one of Yahoo’s locations….a source [says] that there are a “huge number” of remote workers in customer service, marketing and engineering, many of whom “weren’t productive.” For Mayer, the new rule will either force these workers to work in the office, which the company believes will help productivity, or force them to quit, which will help the company cut costs.
Part of this also included reducing maternity leave to two weeks instead of the standard six to eight weeks most companies permit. Mashable.com followed up with an article on 27 February in which Yahoo offered “no comment” but added that
…several anonymous employees said Yahoo’s move to abolish telecommuting indicates that Marissa Mayer, who became company CEO last July, is “in crisis mode.”…Work ethic at Yahoo has deteriorated over time, and the new policy allows management to better monitor and inspire people at the office, the employees revealed. What’s more, it’s seen as beneficial if less productive staff chose to leave because of the policy, they added. Indeed, some workers have abused the work-at-home option to the point that they’ve founded startups while being on Yahoo’s payroll, the employees said.
Even in crisis mode, is this the right thing to do?
This is where the Geek Mom part of me, rather than my Tech Comm side, needs to speak up. I can understand both sides, as I’ve been on both sides. It boils down to the work ethic of each employee, and so a blanket policy shouldn’t be made, but done on an individual basis. Slackers, move on. Productive workers, carry on.
I was fortunate that when my son was born, my husband and I could afford to allow me to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years. It was a good thing too, because within a year or so, we first started noticing the symptoms of what we now know is my son’s high-functioning autism, although at that point, we were lead to believe his issues were not related to autism. Even then, I had to get him involved in kiddie gyms, music programs, speech, behavioral and occupational therapy during those years to try to help with his symptoms. Could I have worked full-time during those years, even at home? I doubt it. I did a little home-based business when he was a toddler, and started working a part-time job once my son started school that worked with his school schedule, but I didn’t go back to work full-time until my son was in first grade, when my part-time job went full-time. For me, that was the right decision, and as I said, I was lucky I could afford to do it at the time. My son needed me more than any corporation, and I knew that I could not give any corporation the full-attention it needed due to my son’s needs.
I think about my sister and my sister-in-law who are also working moms. Both of them had babies in the last year, and had full maternity weeks off. Unlike me, they both went back to work after their maternity leaves–which is fine. That’s pretty much the norm these days–what I did was probably more the exception than the rule. But I also know what they had to go through in the adjustment of going back to work after six to eight weeks. If Marissa Mayer and her HR department think that two weeks for maternity leave is enough, then none of them are parents and are crazy. Doesn’t federal law, namely the Family Leave Act, counteract that? I remember that I didn’t even feel ready for anything for about the same amount of time as a normal maternity leave (and I wasn’t on leave!) when I had my son. It was about six to eight weeks after my son’s normal birth that I felt that I could get around better, and was my old self again, as well as feel that I had any kind of routine with my baby–and I didn’t have to go back to a full-time job at that point!
Now, several years later, I’m still working full-time, but I am now working from home. I still have to make occasional trips to the home office (located an hour and a half or so from my house) now and then, but it’s just that–now and then. I work from home 90-95% of the time. I still have email conversations and phone calls from the company, and I just work on my projects in the quiet of my own home office. I do use my time the same way I would if I were in a typical corporate office. I keep fairly regular business hours during the day, and my bottom doesn’t get out of this seat unless it’s for bathroom or lunch breaks. I have had occasions where I have had doctor’s appointments and such, but I try to schedule them for my lunch hour or before or after work hours, just like anyone else, or I make up the time by staying later or making up the hours later. It’s totally an honor system, and even my boss has implied that as long as I get the work done completely and in a timely manner, how I organize my time is my business. Even so, I try to be honorable and respect that this is a job that I could easily be doing in an office as well, and so I try to run my day the same way. My son goes to after-school childcare like any other kid in the afternoons so that I can keep normal, albeit flexible, business hours (I tend to work from about 8:30-4:30).
I can easily see how others could abuse this privilege, but in this case, I blame Yahoo for not keeping closer tabs on it if they felt they had to reign everyone in. It seems like a ghastly way to save money if it’s meant to wean out those work-at-home employees who are slackers and let them quit instead of just firing them. This way, not only does Yahoo save money with less workers, but inducing “voluntary” layoffs by means of people quitting means that Yahoo doesn’t have to pay for unemployment insurance. They only pay unemployment if workers are officially laid off or fired. Sneaky, don’t you think? Seems a little dirty-handed, if you ask me.
It comes down to the work ethic of individuals. If someone is on the payroll and not doing their job by not delivering what they are assigned to do, then it’s a problem. If these work-at-home employees have little to show for the hours they claim to be working, and are out of touch, then they should be let go. They are abusing the privilege of being able to work at home. As I mentioned, it is truly an honor system that needs to be checked. I’m sure that I’m checked as I go along. How am I using my time? Am I delivering what’s expected of me for the hours that I claim I’m working? Am I available to my co-workers when I’m at home, and do I respond to them appropriately and in an appropriate time frame during business hours? Do I make sure, given that I do live within a reasonable proximity of the office to go in now and then, to actually GO to the office for some face-to-face meetings? Absolutely. In fact, I think the next meeting I have at the office is one which I requested a face-to-face rather than a conference call. I treat this job like any other, but there are others that do not.
The root of all this comes down to productivity. All of us can’t be work horses that dedicate their lives solely to career like Marissa Mayer. That’s just not life–we have families, whether they include children, partners, parents or friends that we need to spend time with and care for them as they would care for you. Life is more than a job as well. Many people have hobbies and interests like sports, crafts or travel, and time is needed for that. There needs to be time for a LIFE, but not at the expense of not having a job.
My job and my career role are important to me, and I respect the position that I’ve been given. I am fortunate to have a work-at-home job that allows me to have a great, productive job that utilizes my technical communications skills while being able to save time and money on commuting so that I can be available if my family needs me. I can work from home if my son is sick or has a day off from school. He’s much more independent now than he was when he was younger, so working from home is easier to do now. (He’s 11 years old now, so he doesn’t need quite so much attention.) It’s actually less stressful, because I don’t have to make excuses for how I have to leave to go get him in the middle of the day if he gets sick. I can easily make up the work from home later. He just plays video games and play while I work. I’ve been fortunate in the past that if I had a need to work from home instead of being in the office, I could. I did my best not to abuse that privilege, and I think I succeeded.
I think Yahoo needs to seriously rethink its position. I understand what it’s trying to do, but it’s going about it all wrong. Work-at-home can be cost-effective, and can be collaborative with the right employees. Weed out the ineffective employees and get the right people in who would greatly appreciate and honor the opportunity, and then things will pick up. Instead of bringing employees together, this is a divisive move than a uniting one.