I write this post as I work from home. I am pant-less as well as bra-less. I type while reclining in my easy chair with my cat napping at my side. I have a little dry oatmeal splatter on my T-shirt from the breakfast I ate this morning. I’m saving it for later.
I work from home every Friday. It is a perk of my current job. It’s also one of the main reasons I am still remotely sane - although the picture I just painted of myself may suggest otherwise.
I live in the Silicon Valley and although my job is a mere 27 miles away it usually takes me one hour each way to commute. One day this week it took me two hours to get to work. When I finally arrived I was not only more violent than usual, but I also had to pee so badly that I ran by security in 6 inch heels, pushing a meek engineer into the wall to get to the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to drive the two hours BACK to my house to change my pants.
I blame the exceptionally bad traffic this week on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who has banned all telecommuting at her company. All those Yahoo employees who used to be happy at home in their underwear now have to get dressed and get behind the wheel – further clogging up my commute and adding to the road rage.
Here in the Silicon Valley, telecommuting is not a luxury. In many ways, it is a necessity. Very few people live right next to their work. If you are living with a significant other, chances are you both commute and live somewhere in between your jobs. People also change jobs here more frequently, which can change or lengthen their commute.
But it’s not just about traffic. Most companies continue to demand more from their employees in a still-struggling economy where it is difficult for them to justify adding more people. The expectation is even when you aren’t supposed to be “working” you are still “connected” – via blackberry and laptop – so you can respond whenever necessary. Business also demands it – especially when you are dealing with customers in different time zones and in an industry that is constantly changing. Even if a company’s policy is to not work from home, you end up working from home on weekends and evenings in order to do your job well.
Which is also why the people I see in the car next to me stuck in traffic have that exhausted, on-the-edge, I-could-totally-drink-a-martini-even-though-it’s-only-9-a.m. look in their eye. They are mentally DONE. Between the commute to the office, picking up the kids, stopping at the store, making dinner, doing the necessary household chores, checking their e-mail, and finishing that report at midnight, they are lucky to be getting 5 to 6 hours of sleep before it all starts again. And god help them if they want to nurture any relationships. There’s no time for that kind of frivolous behavior. Screw the people I love, I’m tired.
Telecommuting is like everything else – it works in moderation, and it works when it is managed properly.
I think everyone understands the value of face-to-face time with the people you work with. Even if you hate your co-workers, you can be more efficient about showing your hatred when you see them in person. After all, flipping off an e-mail just doesn’t give you the same satisfaction of flipping off a human being. Also, ideas tend to grow and flourish when people are under one roof where they can banter, watch each other’s reactions, and feed off of each other’s creative energy.
But there’s also something to be said about having uninterrupted time for projects and detail-oriented tasks. I get more done on my Fridays from home because I don’t have Sue stopping by my desk to tell me how mad she is at the new parking policy or Bob stopping by to ask me – for the third time – if I want to buy Girl Scout cookies from his daughter. Having one day where I can focus, and save two hours on the road, helps me be a better employee, I believe. And it also makes me less likely to smack either Sue or Bob.
I hear you mocking me. “Sure Cookie, you say you’re a better employee – but aren’t you supposed to be working RIGHT NOW?” There’s a party-pooper, finger-pointing goodie-two-shoes in every crowd, isn’t there? Yes, I’m supposed to be working, and HAVE BEEN except for the hour it took me to write this – an hour I also used to suck the leftover oatmeal off my shirt and chase it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s an hour I also like to call LUNCH. So get off me, kill-joy.
Besides, it’s up to my manager to pay attention to whether I’m getting my job done or not. If I don’t make a deadline, produce shoddy work, or don’t answer my phone when she calls because I’m writing a blog and watching reruns of Roseanne all day, it’s my ass. As it should be. But if I’m getting the job done well and on time, does it matter if I did the work half-naked in my living room with an empty jar of peanut butter next to me?
Working from home should be a privilege that employees earn and respect. It also should be limited so people still know what their co-workers look like. The problem at Yahoo was that it was neither of those things.
The bigger problem at Yahoo is that they let things get out of control. Employees performance suffered, and as a result the company’s performance suffered. But the knee-jerk response by Marissa that no one should telecommute AT ALL does not solve that problem. It just changes the geography. Without a change in how people are managed and held accountable, my guess is that the people watching reruns of Roseanne at home during the week will just find a new distraction when forced to come into the office – like watching You-Tube videos of cats on their smart phones.
The people who weren’t abusing the privilege and used telecommuting as a way to keep sanity in their lives without jeopardizing their work performance will just be more tired and frustrated and in need of that 9 a.m. martini. They will also be less likely, I’m guessing, to give Yahoo any extra time than is absolutely necessary. And that won’t help Yahoo either.