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Unfair and Unbalanced

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Telecommuting isn't a gender issue, it's a PR issue.


I was an early covert adopter to working at home/telecommuting. After setting up a computer at home I bribed the IT guys at my workplace (The Boston Globe) to experiment and determine if I could remotely connect to the office mainframe. No one was doing that at the time. This was in the early-1990s and the whole idea of commercial Internet access and online services was brand new. 

I managed to get my hands on some jury-rigged software that allowed me to access my files from home, compose and edit stories and instant message my bosses and colleagues. It mirrored the arcane ATEX system in use at the Globe at the time and no one was the wiser. I didn’t tell anyone about it. For all they knew, I was somewhere in the building diligently carrying out my workplace duties. I had day care issues with my son at the time and congratulated myself on pioneering a way for me to attend to two things at once - work and home. 

One day, however, I mistakenly sent a note to my boss that concluded “I’m in my home office if you need me,” with a telephone number included. The phone rang immediately and it was my boss telling me that I was in violation of a policy that didn’t exist and he would not and could not allow anyone to work from home. There was no logical reason for his resistance other than the fact he was a manager who, like most, wanted to see all his ducks lined up at their desks busily and dutifully working. It stems from a fear and distrust of workers. If they can’t be seen, they must be up to no good. 

And that is really the entire reason to oppose telecommuting, or working from home. 

 Which brings us to Marissa Mayer and her edict that all Yahoo! employees must be present and accounted for in the office each day. Oh sure, she offered other motives for her command - delivered by the head of HR: "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side," the “private” memo to employees said. "That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices."

 There’s more: “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

 This is, in the words of another former boss of mine: “horse pucky.” (Mayer, of course, had a nursery built next to her office so she can attend to her newborn throughout the working day at the same time she would deny the option to working women at Yahoo!).

There are definitely distractions when working at home - kid issues, ennui, online porn and Temple Run, to name just a few. But is the office any better? The same computer distractions exist - constantly being interrupted by emails that contain links that send you off surfing the Internet in search of funny kitty videos and suck hours out of the day, for example. The boss or colleagues drop by with the latest dirty joke or to offer their wit and wisdom of the current events or to analyze last night’s (pro sports team here) game. People want to schmooze, hold meetings, join a coffee klatch, gossip, bitch and moan and on and on. That report you were working on that you thought you could finish in an hour now becomes a two day task. 

As for the idea close office contact inspires collaboration and innovation, I think it’s overrated and at any rate can be dealt with technologically with all the latest innovations like Skype, FaceTime. GoToMeeting, Logmein, and the host of other solutions that bring people together from various geographic locations.

 I have essentially been working from home or from a solo office for nearly two decades now and I’m no more or less productive than I would be if I were chained to a desk in a large office. 

 But corporate America still doesn’t get it. Moreover, hitting employees with a no-exceptions ban on telecommuting probably does more harm to a company, its reputation, its recruitment and image. An outright ban like Yahoo's is simply bad PR and pad brand management.

But perhaps not surprising. My wife recently turned down a position at a major educational institution because there was no policy for flex time or telecommuting. She was actually told that she could indeed work from home but her compensation would be deducted equivalent to the time spent away from the office. Does this make sense in this era? 

In a recent blog post on trackur,com, Erin Jones writes: “If employees feel like they’re only valued for the time that their bodies are planted in cubicles, they’re only going to work for you between the time that they clock in to the minute they clock out. The evangelism for your brand is going to dwindle.” Jones penned this under the headline “How Marissa Mayer’s memo is making a mess of Yahoo” reputation.”

Others have chimed in. 

Virgin Atlantic Group CEO Richard Branson Tweeted: "To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision ... Working life isn't 9-5 any more. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick."

 And Donald Trump checks in with his own Tweet about the issue: “Marissa Mayer is right to expect Yahoo employees to come to the workplace vs. working at home. She is doing a great job!”

Need I say more. 

I’ll have John Lennon and Yoko Ono have the last word. This is from a 1980 Playboy interview long before the days of the Internet and telecommuting. But they were on point then, and they are now. And it is sad how little has changed in more than three decades.telecommuting

ONO: "These days, society prefers single people. The encouragements are to divorce or separate or be single or gay... whatever. Corporations want singles -- they work harder if they don't have family ties. They don't have to worry about being home in the evenings or on the weekends. There's not much room for emotions about family or personal relationships. It seems that only the privileged classes can have families. Nowadays, maybe it's only the McCartneys and the Lennons or something."

LENNON: "Everybody else becomes a worker/consumer."


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