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Maintaining Your Principles While On the Job

figure balancing a check in one hand and an X in another hand, showing right versus wrongOoh…she’s going into controversial territory here… (Well, yeah, I am. What’s new?)

I’ve heard some people say that the COVID-19 pandemic and world events really has them looking at life very differently now on a number of levels. One of those levels for me has been dealing with how do a show the world my principles in a positive light? How do I practice my principles through my actions? These are tough ethical and moral questions for anyone, but this time period in my life and our world’s history is truly bringing this to the forefront, for sure.

As there’s a good segment of technical communicators out there who are looking for work due to the pandemic, it’s a good time to be thinking about those things. For me, it’s not only doing what’s right for me and looking for jobs that appreciate what I can offer and that I can enjoy my work, but also what they are doing. As I get older, sticking to some of my principles gets to be a bigger issue, and how I can apply my values within my work and still stay true to my beliefs and sleep at night knowing that I hopefully did the right thing through my work.

Now, looking at my work history, I didn’t always work for places that always had a good reputation. At the time, I kept a blind eye that as long as I wasn’t part of that segment of the business doing the “dirty work” thinking I was okay. As I’ve gotten older, I can’t do that so much anymore. I have to feel okay that what I do serves a better cause overall, and that I can agree with the company’s mission and ethics. We all have different levels of where we stand on issues, so in some instances this can be hard. For example, if you are a person who is strongly against fossil fuels, but the industry where you live is primarily gas and oil, then there are going to be difficulties. But if you also knew about the things that the company is doing to make cleaner fuels and other earth-positive products, you might not be quite as strict about where you work. It’s a slippery slope.

It also applies to the people you work with as well. I’ve been fortunate that most of the people that I’ve worked with hold the same values that I do, and that makes work easier as well when dealing with others. If you come from the same or a similar perspective on something, interpersonal relationships with others is easier. You don’t have to agree with everything, but you generally know that if someone’s holistic ethical approach is the same as yours, you’re going to be fine.

As I continue to find my next gig, this becomes important to me. I don’t want to apply to a company that supports causes that go against my standards. I don’t want to work for a company that cheats people or treats them poorly–whether they be their employees, consultants, or even their customers. I prefer to work for companies that do look out for those who work for them and their customers, and make it a point to make it part of their internal conversations.

Like I said, it’s a slippery slope navigating in this crazy world right now, but it’s something we should all be conscious of. Where do you want to be? What do you want to support? Is where you work a place that supports the betterment of others and helps elevate us all? Our principles and ethics can slide. What might be a deal breaker for you isn’t for me, and vice versa. And that’s okay. But we should all be conscious of this, especially in tech comm work. Why? It’s actually part of our job, if you think about it. We write manuals, how-to guides, policies and procedures, training, and a host of other forms of content that are meant to help others get things done on an equal level, or at least provide a means of balancing things so things can be equal. Localization and globalization is part of that. It’s built into what we do.

So, as you continue, just think about how influential technical communicators can be in this respect. And make choices that are right for you, and right for the world that you want to leave behind.

What are your thoughts? Include them below.

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It’s easy being a consultant? Think again!

Even Sherlock Holmes has a hard time as a consultant in his field. (image from
Even Sherlock Holmes has a hard time as a consultant in his field. (image from

I was recently reminded of how challenging it can actually be to be a consultant in this world. As a result, it was suggested to me (thanks, Marc Gravez!) that perhaps it would be a good idea to write and share what it really means to be a consultant.

We need to start with the general perception of what a consultant is. Most people think that consultants are mega-experts in their field that focus only on specific skills. Consultants advise others on how to do certain tasks, and only stay for a short amount of time at a job. Consultants are paid the big bucks, and are independent workers, so they don’t need benefits because they can buy their own–they are independent entrepreneurs of sorts. These individuals want to be consultants, and aren’t looking for permanent work. Because they are at a project for a short amount of time, they do not make any personal connections with clients, and don’t need to be integrated into the company team working on a project. Likewise, when it comes to team or company activities, they don’t care about being included, because their own company does things with them outside of the company.

While I can understand why people would think this way, over many years, I’ve discovered that very rarely are these perceptions are true. In fact, this view is a little bit skewed, and this became very clear once I became consultant myself.

To clarify, there are some independent consultants who are mini-entrepreneurs who do like working on short-term projects, moving around, and making a good salary in the process. However, in my experience, there aren’t many of those out there necessarily, or only a few of those factors are in play.  I would venture to guess that many–if not most– consultants are not voluntarily consultants.  For example, I’ve been looking for a full-time position for about 8 years now, and have yet to find one.  I take consulting jobs to keep my income going, because even temporary work pays more than unemployment or unemployment benefits. I’ve met many people like myself who are in the same situation.

From what I’ve discovered, a “consultant” is a fancy term for a temporary worker with more than administrative assistant level skills (which justifies the higher than admin assistant level salaries).  With the economy as it is, many companies are afraid to hire skilled workers full-time because they are more expensive to hold onto long-term due to benefits, insurance, etc.  I understand that. Very often, that’s what companies think that they need.  However, the disruption of getting temporary workers changing every few months to every few years is not helpful to a company who is looking for consistency. As I said, some people like to be able to change jobs every few months or every other year, but most would prefer to have some employment stability–or at least as much as a regular employee would have. The longest assignment I’ve had to date, since entering the tech comm field, is two and a half years–which is fairly long. The longest assignment I’ve heard of is three years, unless some consultant works more as a vendor than a consultant. Sometimes consultants are converted into full-time employees, but those instances are very rare. There have been SO many times when I was hoping for such a conversion for myself, and it didn’t materialize to my frustration, even when I was told that I was a valuable member of the team and my manager was pleased with my output. I had one “client” even tell me that they just had to hand a project over, and then “let go of the reins”–they didn’t have to worry about me messing anything up, and they knew the project was in good hands. How do you not hire someone like that after more than 2 years? It’s not just me, but many aren’t.

It’s also thought that they are super specialized–and some are. But I’m willing to bet there are a lot of consultants out there that are like me, that have multiple talents and skills waiting to be used. I do content strategist and management tasks mostly, but I can also write and edit, do intermediate level graphics work, interact and write on social media and blog, help build e-learning modules– there’s more than one facet to me.  Often, consultants are not allowed to grow and develop their skills as much because they are limited to the task they are hired for, and their client isn’t about to help with professional development. Professional development becomes the responsibility of the consultant if they want to keep up with their field, and be able to either keep the assignment they have, or be able to find something else in the future. The cost of that professional development comes out of the consultant’s pocket, and it’s not cheap by any means. This is not only detrimental for the consultant, but it can also be detrimental for a company, because if they have a long-term consultant, they aren’t investing much in helping their company grow, just in the same way that they claim that investing in professional development for employees helps their employees grow, thus the company grows. It’s a double-edged sword. Even a discounted investment, if not full investment, in a consultant’s professional development, would be helpful for all parties involved.

Consultants are thought to be well paid. And generally, they are. But, as far as being super rich as a result? HA! Consulting can be lucrative if you are representing yourself and you are not working from an agency. Agencies try to get you a fair hourly pay rate, but because they are the “middle man”, they get a huge cut of what the company/client is paying. So, if you got all the funds from the company directly, then yes, you’d be making big money! But as it is, you hope for a fair rate. The only advantage of working through an agency, as I see it, is that they will figure out how much taxes and fees to take out of your paycheck. You are actually an employee of the agency, not the client/company you are working at. If you are an independent consultant without an agency, sure, the extra money that would be the agency fee would be yours, but then you’d be needing to ensure that YOU are taking out the taxes from your incoming paychecks. Additionally, while some agencies offer some benefits, they are often overpriced benefits that aren’t worth the money. I get my medical benefits through my husband’s job, because I’ve yet to have an agency offer a package that would benefit me (or my family) at a reasonable cost. Additionally, independent consultants have to pay for the benefits 100% out of their own pockets, and at least with American medical insurance, that’s a huge sum of money. So in the end, they don’t make as much as an employee does, or probably makes less or the same as an employee does, with less benefits. Additionally, consultants aren’t paid a salary, but rather an hourly rate. No paid sick leave or paid vacations. You don’t work–you don’t get paid. That’s less money right there, alone.

Lastly, consultants are PEOPLE, not robots. We like to interact with other people, and we often enjoy being part of a team. Most of the time, we are treated the same as employees in the workplace when it comes to our daily responsibilities and output, with the same expectations. But when it comes time for rewards, recognition, and simple company inclusion, consultants are left out in the cold. We are the “red-headed stepchildren” of the workforce. We aren’t allowed to participate in the company picnic, get any praise for a job or project that’s done well, or get the bonus or “holiday gift” at the end of the year for all our hard work unless our personal manager decides to give a holiday token gift as a small thank you. I understand that companies can’t pay for everyone because some consultants would start to say they deserve all the rights and privileges of being an employee–even try to pass themselves off as employees– when they are not, but some companies are outright draconian with it. And often, this grand divide between employees and consultants is further widened because consultants are left in the cold.

For example, a company I know gave their employees both a bonus AND and expensive wearable device as an employee gift.  Some of the employees complained that they didn’t want it because it wasn’t compatible with their Android phone (okay, valid point), but they whined about it in front of the consultants. What did the consultants get? Nothing. Just an earful of complaints about the gift from the employees. My experience is that consultants do know their place and function in the company. Consultants are usually happy to get whatever they can, because they’re just happy that they are EMPLOYED AT ALL! There was another occasion where I had worked on a very large team project, and everyone on the team except me got an extra bonus and reward because of the company’s reward and recognition program. It was the first time I had actually been recognized for my work, and I couldn’t even benefit from it because I was a consultant. (I admit, I cried about it, because it was the first time in my entire career I had been recognized for my work in any way, and here I was left out again only because I was a consultant and not an employee.) I was fortunate that the client wanted to do something about that so I wouldn’t feel left out, and they were kind enough to make sure that the agency forwarded a token “bonus” of sorts to me. It was an exception, but it meant so much to me because I worked so hard on that project–as much as any employee if not more than some of those employees, and I had never been recognized for my professional work before. It was a kind gesture, but ultimately, it still wasn’t the same as being an employee.  Being a consultant often means being left out in the cold, the persona non gratis, at the workplace, and it can be a lonely, un-fulfilling feeling.

Being a consultant is not glamourous or Ab Fab.
Being a consultant is not glamorous or Ab Fab.

Being a consultant is not all that glamorous. We work as hard–sometimes harder–than your average employee so that we can try to keep up or move ahead. Some consultants can turn their independence into a thriving business–they are the lucky ones. Most of us are merely those who struggle to find some stability and security in their career, working for agencies, taking what assignments we can get so that we still use the skills that we have and pay our bills.  We are team players, and we can fill in gaps as needed, but even when we are the star players, we are treated like bench warmers. Sure, life isn’t fair, but in that respect, consultants need to be treated with more respect in the workplace as a result. They are doing jobs that perhaps no one else can do–or wants to do, and they are trying to do their best to help your company pull ahead, and they don’t get to reap any of the benefits of doing so, other than knowing they do a good job.

So, support your local consultants. They often contribute to your company as much as any employee does. They invest themselves into what’s best for your company as much as any employee. Like I said, most would love a full-time job, but there are few to be had. They are resourceful people who keep going on many short-term positions with no guarantee of a next assignment right away.  I wouldn’t mind being a full-time independent consultant either, but again, figuring out where each next assignment is going to come from is not a guarantee, either.  It’s time that consultants are given more credit and compassion than they get now.

If you are a consultant, do you agree with my assessment? Do you like being a consultant, or would you prefer more stable employment? Do you have anything to add to the discussion? Add your comments below. I would like to hear about other people’s experiences and perspectives.

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TechCommGeekMom’s 2013 Year in Review

TechCommGeekMom visits Multnomah Falls during her Lavacon/Adobe Day 2013 visit to the Portland, OR area.

Okay, I’ll admit this is going to be a slightly self-indulgent (and slightly long) blog post. I read something recently that said that there shouldn’t be so much “self-promotion” in promoting your blog. This has always been a blog that not only encourages community, but it also tracks my own journey through technical communications, for better or worse. Taking the time to do the year-end review of what’s gone on in the past year is a good exercise for anyone.

At first, I thought my year wasn’t all that great, meaning that it wasn’t exciting. I hadn’t achieved some things that I wanted to do; I did not fulfill all my tech comm resolutions for the year. But as I looked through photos of the past year on my mobile devices to come up with something to put in this blog post, I realized that a LOT of good things still happened this year.

The year started off with a bang, as I was finally working full-time after a year of unemployment.  The new job ended up being a good opportunity. I get to work from home, I’m being paid well (a lot better than I ever had before), and it’s doing something that comes naturally to me–content management. I have had the chance to use my UX and web design abilities during this position, too. Things have gone well enough that my contract has been extended for another year.  I know that there’s a good chance that later in 2014, the company I’m contracted to will be switching CMS software, so it’ll be an opportunity to learn a new system and flex those content management muscles. I’m looking forward to it! It’s been a long time since I had a job that I truly enjoyed and feel appreciated for what I do. In past positions, I would offer my suggestions and advice based on what I had learned from my social media connections, graduate school courses, conferences, and personal experience, and I’d be ignored. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t take my suggestion if there’s something valid that will discount it, but using the excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s what the end user is used to, so why change it?” doesn’t cut it for me. There’s always a better way. This was the first position that actually gave me a chance to use my voice and makes some executive decisions that would benefit the end user. My manager supports my decisions 99% of the time, so that’s been a huge load off my shoulders. Stress has not been a major issue with this job, and I know I’m fortunate to have made this employment connection.

Having a job, and a good job at that, would make for a good year. But there’s been more.

2013 was the year that I started to go out on the public speaking circuit. It started with my first conference presentation at the STC-PMC Conference in March, followed by two webinars this past fall. Three presentations might not sound like a lot, but considering that I have only presented to my tech comm peers twice beforehand (my capstone presentation at grad school and an Adobe Webinar that Maxwell Hoffmann helped me with immensely in 2012), and all these presentations were STC-related, I figure that’s a pretty good feather to add to my cap.  I’ve been told that the presentations were well-received, and I have gotten some good feedback, so I consider that a big success.

I also added an additional writing credential to my repetoire.  I started writing a by-line for the STC Notebook blog that started out as a column as a newcomer for the 2013 STC Summit. That column has now turned into a regular monthly column for the STC Notebook called Villegas Views. Again, I feel like I’ve received some good feedback on my writing there, so that’s another success.

I attended three conferences this year, namely the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, the STC Summit, and Lavacon (although I was only at Lavacon for a day–hey, I still need to write about that! I’ll try to get to that soon!).  The biggest one, of course, was the Summit, which was mindblowing for me. I loved being able to travel, considering I work from home day in and day out. (I’m not complaining, but it was a welcome change of scenery.) Actually, all the conferences were wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, and that sense of feeling somewhere that I belonged was never more evident than when I attended these events. I’m SO glad I did, and that leads me to the last thing that I found to be the greatest part of this year.

While I had started to develop some professional connections in 2012 through social media and through my first visit to Adobe Day at Lavacon in 2012, both social media and these conferences enabled me to expand my professional connections exponentially. However, it became more than just professional connections.  I’ve ended up making some fantastic friends along the way.  I know most people don’t think of me as being shy or introverted, but I actually am. I’m horribly awkward socially , and I know it.  Social media helped with the introductions, for sure. A few in-person introductions have helped as well. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I have found that technical communicators to be one of the most friendly and inviting groups of people I’ve ever met. I have appreciated every person who introduced himself or herself to me in person when knowing me from my blog or a social media connection. I’ve appreciated the friendships that have developed over time from these connections. I’ve loved having some of these friendships with those who are industry leaders develop into mentorships as well. When one of those supportive mentors encourage me or tell me how proud they are of my accomplishments, I want to cry tears of joy. (Heck, I’m crying tears of joy just writing this!) For so long, I’ve felt like an outsider, so to have my professional peers look to me as an equal and show me constant support and encouragment is a huge boost that I’ve needed for years.

This blog has grown, too. The numbers aren’t done for the year yet as I write this, but I’ve added a lot more readers and had more response to TechCommGeekMom in 2013 than in 2012. I’m sure I’ll be doing more celebrating when the blog hits its second “birthday” in March, but for the calendar year, it’s been great. I know I haven’t always been able to keep up with this blog as much as I liked during this year, but I feel like the efforts that were made to grow and expand have been supported by the tech comm community.

So, thanks to all of you for reading my posts either here, on the STC Notebook, or in social media. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share ideas with me. Thanks for continually teaching me more about technical communication, and helping me to expand my mind and my understanding of this profession, and teaching me how I can continue to grow in this profession.

2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year as well. I will be attending three conferences before the year is halfway done, of which I’ll be presenting at two of them, I believe. I know, for sure, that one of the conferences I’ll be presenting at is the STC Summit 2014! That’s a big deal to me. I mean, think about it–only out of grad school two years, and already presenting at the annual Summit? Not too shabby, I would think.  I’ll be continuing to write here at TechCommGeekMom, and I’ll still be writing my by-line for STC Notebook, and I’m hoping that there will be some more opportunities to do presentations either in-person or in webinars.

2013 has been quite the year for me…time will tell how 2014 will be!

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Villegas Views: Why Bother Learning More in Technical Communication?

See on Scoop.itM-learning, E-Learning, and Technical Communications

Danielle M. Villegas‘s insight:

I have a new monthly byline with the STC Notebook blog! Welcome to Villegas Views. Check out this latest entry about continuing education in tech comm.


See on

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Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? (NOT a tribute to The Clash)

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Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!
Photo courtesy of TechCrunch

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 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. 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.