The Humongous Work-From-Home Debate

Marissa Mayer, the not so brand new CEO of Yahoo! has mandated an end to the increasingly spreading behavior of working remotely. This has engendered an equally humongous amount of chitter chatter in blogs, tweets, posts, etc. But probably not nearly as much water cooler conversation, since chatting at the water cooler requires you to be at work to do it.

Let me start by saying that I totally support Marissa. Work is generally not the exclusive by-product of a single individual. Ideas are meant to be bounced around, preferably in real time. Don't get me wrong, working from home is a wonderful thing. I do it a few days a week. But I know that my greatest productivity comes from sitting next to my business partner and talking things through. Of course we can do this on the phone, but, like sex, doing it on the phone is somehow not nearly as satisfying. I save 3 hours a day of commuting, not to mention not having to get up to make the 7:11A train or abruptly end conversations when my phone reminds me that the 5:10P train is looming. But here's what I give up:

  • I don't have the random stimulations and thinking time to massage ideas and then get to the office and discuss them with my business partner.
  • I can't lurk in the background with my phone muted and vicariously participate in phone conversations. (From home I'm logged in or I am not.)
  • At the office there's always the serendipity of bumping into folks. I never bump into anyone in my house. Thank goodness, as I am rarely fully clothed.
  • I not only occasionally work remotely, but I absolutely live remotely. So remote that it's practically impossible for me to meet with anyone without first commuting to the office.

 

Most of the Sturm und Drang about this subject is random outcries against the corporate power. But some is very intelligent. Most companies have begun to offer more than reasonable opportunities for maternity (and even paternity) leave. But that kind of 'leave' doesn't replace the desire of many mothers (and fathers), especially those of the single parent variety, to be able to afford and provide meaningful, long-term child care. Working from home does that. Ms. Mayer, according to the press, has built a nursery next to her office. I'm guessing that her nanny is now in residence there. This is a smart way to raise a small child without live in grandparents. I wish that Yahoo took its luxurious gym and repurposed it for pre-school purposes. The Little Purple School House would be a far more attractive bait for new talent than free lunches at URL's (that's the name of their cafeteria in Sunnyvale). And even the most attentive parents appreciate a little down time...a perfect opportunity to do some work!

 

This is a swinging pendulum. Once, at the far end of the arc, were the bad old days when the only option that a mother (because it is usually the mother who has to balance the childcare responsibility) really had was retirement or some form of day care. Unless you were wealthy, your options narrowed quickly. Then the pendulum began to swing, and eventually got to the other side...work from home. Take care of your family and squeeze some work in when you can. The Hegelian Synthesis is to find a place in the middle. If the workers at a trendy start up can bring their dogs to the office, why couldn't they band together, with or without company support, and do the same thing with their pre-school kids? I know there a rules, laws, safety concerns, etc., but, at the end of the day, those kids are way better off being down the hall from their parent. It's a 'takes a village' solution.