The Problem With Yahoo's Work-at-Home Ban
CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting could have real repercussions for employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer has declared that her company’s employees will soon no longer be able to work from home, not even for one day a week.
While much of the uproar over her decision has focused on its impact on young working moms, I believe the decision has serious implications for men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Who Really Works From Home
Contrary to popular belief, the typical teleworker is not 20-something, but 49, according to a 2011 report by TeleworkResearchNetwork.com.
It’s no wonder that boomers have embraced working from home, occasionally or regularly. Many have work-life challenges just as vexing as those of young parents, including long commutes, doctor appointments and the unpredictable demands of caring for aging parents.
(MORE: Working From Home: The Good, the Bad and the Bottom Line)
That is I why I agree with billionaire Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, who reacted to Mayer’s new rule by saying, “This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
Why I’m Unhappy With Mayer’s Rule
As a career coach who has helped hundreds of clients make their work more lifestyle-friendly (and someone with a home office myself), the Yahoo decision leaves me feeling confused, disappointed and concerned.
I’m confused because I thought we were past the point of needing to justify telecommuting as a viable work option.
Survey after survey has found that telecommuters are, in general, as productive or more productive than their officemates. According to a 2011 study by the nonprofit WorldatWork, companies that embraced flexible work arrangements had higher employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement as well as lower turnover compared to ones that didn’t.
Telecommuting is good for our environment, too. It gets people off our congested highways, decreases pollution and reduces our demand for fuel.
(MORE: How to Get Your Life in Sync)
Most important, at a time when people are expected to work longer hours and be connected 24/7, telecommuting provides workers much needed flexibility regarding when and where they work.
I’m disappointed because I had hoped for more from Mayer, a former top executive at Google before joining Yahoo. Despite her reputation as a workaholic — she took just two weeks maternity leave after giving birth to her son, Macallister, and paid to have a nursery built next to her office — I still wanted to believe Mayer would champion progressive work policies. After all, I reasoned, if a 37-year-old new mother who works for a California high-tech company doesn’t see the value in telecommuting, who will?
An Open Invitation to Other Execs
I’m concerned because although one memo does not a trend make, when a high-profile chief executive like Mayer takes this type of stand, it invites other executives to follow.
Defendants of Mayer say she was hired to turn around an ailing company and her first obligation is to her shareholders. They are correct.
Mayer argues that the best way to promote innovation and teamwork is through face-to-face interaction. This is also true.
But I fundamentally disagree that requiring every worker to be at the office every day — no matter what his or her job or personal circumstances are — makes smart business sense.
(MORE: How to Find a Legit Work-From-Home Job)
As Peter Cohan wrote in “4 Reasons Marissa Mayer’s No-At-Home Work Policy Is an Epic Fail” on Forbes.com: “Simply put, some jobs get done better if people interact in person and others are better done at home where workers can do their jobs more productively without interruption from others.”
Advice For Telecommuters
It’s too early to tell what Mayer’s rule will mean for those outside of Yahoo who currently telecommute and aren’t self-employed. But I’d advise every employee working from home who is uncertain about the prospects of doing so to get proactive and protect their work arrangement.
What is the best way to do that? I asked two of my work-life colleagues for their suggestions.
One is Pat Katepoo, the Kaneohe, Hawaii founder of WorkOptions.com, a negotiating skills site for career women, who created a Telecommuting Proposal Package ($29.95) to help employees get their manager’s approval to work from home. Says Katepoo: "Consider working remotely two or three days out of the week, not five, so regular in-person connections can continue.”
Michael Haaren of Washington, D.C., the co-founder of Ratracerebellion.com, a source for legitimate work-from-home job opportunities, advises: “Make sure you always hit your deadlines and keep in close touch with your team. Employers are often concerned about telecommuter accountability and you don't want to raise any doubts.” One way to stay in touch is by scheduling regular phone meetings with one or two people you work with at the office, so you'll be connecting consistently.
I agree with them and have one more suggestion: Take advantage of tech tools like Skype, the online video calling and messaging service, that let you have a presence in the office even when you’re not physically there.
It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that fellow employees who work in the office every day might not be thrilled with your at-home arrangement and may even be jealous.
By proving that you’re putting in as much effort as they are and are equally available, you’ll increase your chances of being able to keep telecommuting from home sweet home.