The internet’s been blowing up with reactions to Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s ban on Yahoo employees working from home. Employees allowed the freedom and autonomy of working from a home office on either a full- or part-time basis have been outraged by the decision and the implication that home-based employees are less than productive.
I get it, though. And I’m not sure, were I in Mayer’s shoes, that I would make a different decision. I’m informed by experience. I worked from home full-time for five years. I know firsthand how difficult it can be. I was organized, productive, methodical and overall, a successful at-home employee, but it is very easy to see how that success is the exception rather than the rule, and how the challenges often outweighed the benefits.
Most people benefit from team interaction. In-person brainstorming and team building is far preferable and effective than the kind that can be achieved via conference call or Skype. As a consultant, I’ve even found that the time I spend on-site with clients, observing, learning and breathing the same air provides me with far more insight about the inner workings, challenges and wins my clients experience. That information gives me far richer fodder for developing the stories of that business, and the individuals who represent it.
For the at-home employee, particularly those trying to balance childcare or other home-based responsibilities in the mix, challenges abound. If there’s a home maintenance visitor expected (plumber, electrician, painter, etc.) you’re on tap to great, manage and pay them. If you have school-aged children, snow days can be your personal hell, or any unexpected school holiday in which your kids are present can sideline an otherwise productive day. If your home office isn’t an entirely separate space, with a door that closes and contents respected by other residents of the home, you’re setting yourself up for failure, too. People often envision working at home as an opportunity to lie around in one’s pajamas all day long, but from personal experience, I knew from the start that getting dressed to shoes and makeup each morning made me feel as if I was GOING TO WORK, even if that just meant descending two flights of stairs to my home office, psychologically programmed me to NOT feel as if I were taking a sick day.
So, I get it. Most people really CAN’T successfully pull off a full-time work from home arrangement. That’s not to say that allowing employees to work at home during special circumstances (i.e., snow days, sick kids, plumber visits and the like) isn’t advised. I would ALWAYS be for that — employees need that kind of flexibility to manage their lives, and in most cases, will pay it back in spades during long work days or weekend work.
My last thought on this topic is this: you people are weird. I created a video years ago (see how short my hair is!) to prove that I actually wear lipstick in my home office and to date, the video is the most popular I’ve ever created. Working from home, alone sometimes makes you do strange things. Here’s the video, in case you’re one of the few who hasn’t already seen it.