Hey Marissa Mayer, It's Not Where You Work, It's How You Work.Caitlin Abber

A very important discussion began earlier this week regarding the new trend of working from home. Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa “I’m not a feminist, I just work a lot” Mayer sent a memo around to her employees, stating that no one was allowed to work from home anymore – even if they had a cable man coming sometime between 10am-4pm (sidebar: why do cable companies still insist on those ridiculous time slots?). In response, Irin Carmon of Salon wrote a great piece on why working from home is ultimately a woman’s issue, one that Mayer most likely did not want to justify because her view of success is derived from matching a man’s, not challenging it.

I’ve written before about why I chose to quit my agency job and join the freelance, working-from-home workforce. It wasn’t that I had a kid that needed me at home, or a long commute. I just wanted more time to explore my options. I wanted more freedom, I didn’t want to be watched 9 hours a day, and I needed a break working for arrogant, awful men. I wanted to write more., and I trusted my judgment and time management skills.  Ultimately, I wanted to be more productive. So I made a conscious, well-thought out decision and, when the right freelance opportunity arose, I took it.

The first couple months, I was truly motivated. I lived by these 5 rules:

  1.  Get up by 8am, and at least TRY to go to the gym.
  2.  Wear real clothes.
  3.  Client work comes first (gotta make that dough).
  4.  Absolutely no ordering takeout.
  5.  Try to go for a walk, run errands, cook dinner.

Then the first winter came, and I started to feel a bit like a shut in. Luckily, my client roster was packed, and I was super busy. I thought, okay, this is just a blip, let’s set some new goals. I ran a 5k, and I started writing for HelloGiggles. I locked in some great clients, and I kept soldiering on. But I knew something was missing. And that something was other people. All of my connections were virtual. I have an entire roster of clients I’ve never actually met in person. Between Chase Quick Deposit, Soap.com, and pick-up/drop-off laundry, I literally never have to leave my house. As of right now, I am in pajamas eating Thai takeout and okay, kind of contemplating going to the gym. It has come to that.

I am an extremely extroverted person, so this kind of self-imposed alienation is proving to be a struggle for me. And while it’s not effecting the quality or quantity of my work, it does have an impact on my sense of purpose. What am I actually doing, if no one can see me do it?

While I agree that Yahoo’s decision to not allow employees to work from home is sexist, old fashioned, and actually a step in the wrong direction, I do think there is something to be said about the benefits of a  little face-to-face time. And certainly when it comes to networking, in-person is still king. You can be the funniest person on Twitter, but if you have zero social skills and never show up to anything, people are going to have a hard time getting to know you and ultimately trusting you with responsibilities.

So yes, working from home is great, but you have to actually live in the world outside your apartment in order to succeed.

Yet I still reject much of what comes with working in a typical office, and truly think that it isn’t right for everyone. For example, having worked in the digital space for the last six years, I know how to spot an office with a tyrant (no music on, everyone is quiet, they tell you during the interview that you will be working until 9pm every night). And I also know that a pool table is often the sign of someone trying too hard to look cool and fun. Same goes for antlers on the wall.

It’s very hard to find a balance between an old school office and a virtual one, but I certainly don’t think imposing black and white policies, like no one is allowed to work from home ever, is going to make your company any more attractive to current and potential employees. It’s seen as old fashioned, and the only people who might be impressed with such a rule are antiquated men who think a strong work ethic means never stopping for a moment of self-care.

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  1. One small grammar correction, if I may: Fifth paragraph, where you read “And while it’s not effecting the quality or quantity of my work…,” it should, instead, read: “And while it’s not AFFECTING the quality….”.
    This is a very common mistake in written English, so please don’t take my correction as being an “a-hole.” Just wanna help!
    Thanks

  2. I think something that people often forget about in this discussion is the type of work being done by the company. Work that often gets done by freelancers — writing, designing, etc — is super amenable to working from home. Other jobs require you to be more available to your coworkers for meetings and on-the-fly conversations, etc. It’s not always a great option for every company and that’s definitely something you have to consider when you’re job hunting. I had an old boss who often worked from home and it impacted my schedule/productivity/performance because he wasn’t available when I needed him to be.

  3. What’s this “Yahoo” I keep hearing about?

  4. She’s taken over a publicly struggling company and in her short time has improved its worth by more than 30%. From what I’ve read, the employees were taking advantage of the privilege of working from home. It’s not even an option at so many companies, and honestly her decision to terminate this privilege was in the best interest of Yahoo and was the right thing to do to improve efficiency. I love that she can make these tough decisions and I’m proud to have her as a strong role model for women.

    Rebecca Fernandez | 2/27/2013 11:02 am
  5. As someone who’s employer allows each team manager to make the decision about their members working from home, I can tell you that it’s not always fair to the people who have to/choose to be in the office. My manager allows us all to work at home whenever we’d like. I value face-time, though. I also know that things get done more efficiently with better communication in the office. I work at home if I’m not feeling well, or if my car is having issues. Otherwise, I drive 30-45 minutes to work each day. And I get ALL the overflow work because I’m physically in the office (Job security, right!). At least 4-5 other team members out of 8 that I work closely with take advantage of the work-at-home situation. They work at home if there’s traffic, if they have an 8am doc appointment, or for no reason at all. And I have a folder full of excuses in my email inbox that you wouldn’t believe. When it came time for yearly reviews, guess who got the promotion and who didn’t get squat? Once again, totally unfair that coming to work everyday is not an advantage for your career advancement.

    Bottom Line: Don’t tell your employees that they can work from home. But let it be known that if they really REALLY need that flexibility, it’s there.

    And I don’t believe making people come to work is sexist at all. Letting women work at home so they can also take care of children/laundry/chores is sexist as crap.

  6. A well written article, but I feel like the comment about waiting for the cable guy was a bit disingenuous. The actual quote I saw: “And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.” That’s not exactly the same as what you presented here.

    The ability to work at home definitely has a gender component to it. Given the news that Mayer had a nursery built at her office, I would be really curious to see if she pushes for in-office childcare, especially now that she’s requiring everyone to come in.

  7. How is telling employees they must come into work, like almost every other large corporation out there, sexist in any way? Because now women need daycare for their children? Again, stop complaining and see: most other families out there. Talk about SELFISH behavior for people who are out of work and willing to travel miles upon miles for any job now.

  8. I enjoyed this article, finding it well written and plotted out, but I completely disagree. I understand what this article is trying to say, I do. And I’m all in favor of working from home. If my position allowed it, I would.
    I don’t see how it’s sexist at all. I think it’s obvious to everyone that with technology working from home is the future, or at least set to be more common.
    First off, working from home, last I checked wasn’t reserved just for women. In fact, I know more men who work from home than women.
    It’s true that women as still falling into the role of home maker, even when they work as much as their spouses do, but this is a issue for the relationship, not the employer. There is no reason that n imbalance of power at home should become your employer’s responsibility to help with. Since when is asking a woman to work under the exact same boundaries as a a man sexist? It’s this type of argument that sets us back, ladies. We can’t ask for equal treatment as assume we should be given perks based upon our sex.
    An employer has the right to make the rules, and yes, that includes where the employee has to put in their hours. If you don’t like the schedule (or the parking situation, or the benefits or any other aspect of the position), then it’s time to find a job more in line with your wants.

  9. Well done Caitlin. I think this entire article has been blown out of proportion. Yahoo is in trouble, she got some headlines. It may backfire. My own belief is anything that is said in great extremes is already problematic. Every company has people working at home, going to the office, and back again. Some have people that go everyday, some have people that work only from home and so on. It’s possible she is trying to weed out people that are not advancing the company. Some of her statements were silly, but again, may be out of context, like “I’m not a feminist, I just work a lot.” What? I don’t even know what that means. For myself, I’ve spent my entire executive life working from my home office for huge companies. It’s what I set out to do. I also cannot bear the office life. I am much more productive with my own regime. Also very disciplined. Having said that, I started this LONG before even email! Lot of phone calls. And I had and have tons of face to face meetings, but only if I think they are important. So many are a huge waste of time. One of the reasons I left corporate life is because of all the “required” meetings that lead nowhere but had to be documented as if to prove everyone was doing something. Also in creating my own niche, it outward expanded to include all sorts of other opportunities. AND as a mother, huge benefit, I was here everyday to pick up my child from school. That is just me. Everybody won. And still do. It’s hard to explain how much more productive I am being my own boss, but I think you understand. And anyone that has an entrepreneurial streak will as well. Will end with saying I believe Yahoo is in trouble, she was sent there to bring fresh whatever, it hasn’t happened. She ought to look at how she is leading before tossing out public ultimatums. IMO thanks for your article

  10. I worked for Yahoo! for two and a half years. I definitely liked the flexibility of working from home just as other people do. My department did take advantage of the WFH perk but I believe it went to an extreme. Sometimes I would not see team members in person when collaborating on projects which was a problem when it came to explaining issues. There are times when it’s much more efficient to explain issues in person rather than in words through email.

    We all know that Yahoo! is a struggling search engine competing with Google. So in order to get back on top there needs to be a change in the system with room for collaboration and new ideas. This would be harder to achieve working without facetime.

    I don’t think this needs to speak for all companies or working women, but purely a statement for Yahoo! and where they stand in the industry today.

  11. Good article. Clearly not everybody is made for everything. I am not made for offices that are not in my home.

    But still I can’t shake the feeling, that the idea behind the statement “no more home-office for anyone” has never been about Mrs. M. and her idea of working a lot. Let’s stay honest: Yahoo desperately needs attention. And if you can’t grab it with the product, grab it with the people. Clever strategy!

  12. I appreciate what this article is saying, but I have to be honest…I find it a bit narrow in scope. In the article from wired, one of the possibilities given for Mayer’s decision is to help fix a broken system. If the company is failing and Mayer sees an abuse of the “work from home” policy, she would be right to attempt to fix it. I suppose it’s possible that she believes, “If I’m here, you’re going to be here.”, but even so, that’s entirely her prerogative. I’ll be honest and say that it does seem a bit silly to not let people work from home if they have the occasional appointment or car trouble, but again….we don’t know what kind of issues the policy is having at Yahoo!.

    Also, I have to point out that this being made a woman’s issue and being seen as setting women back, seems a bit counterproductive. We as women are always pushing for equal rights. We want equal pay. We want the same opportunities to move up the corporate ladder that men have. And…we also want the right to stay at home and work? Why? Because we are women? Do more women stay at home and work? Maybe. I don’t know the stats, but I suppose one can assume so. What if it was the other way around? What if men were the ones who worked from home? Would we feel the same way? If we want to be equal, it has to be equal all around. I’m afraid that sometimes when we say we want it, we really mean we want to keep our perks, too.

    I’m all for women power, but not at the expense of downplaying the role that men play in society or by lumping them all together as chest-thumping buffoons. That doesn’t really help our cause.

    • Thanks for your response. Part of the argument for why women need to have more flexible work hours is because they still (regardless of the fight for any kind of equality) shoulder more of the home/childcare responsibilities. It’s not that they want to sit around in pajamas all day (though some do, ahem), but rather that they need to be there for their families. Workplace equality is about not forcing women to sacrifice their career for their families, or their families for their career.

      Caitlin Abber | 2/26/2013 02:02 pm
      • Also, don’t you think there are a lot of DAD’s out there who would like to stay at home, work, and raise the kids? But no, they are expected to be out in the field, because only women can care for them adequetly. Ridiclous. The truth of the matter is, if you want or need to work, you may have to sacrifice family time to do so. This is not sexist, it’s called living in the real world where you can’t always get what you want. Are we so overly politically correct as a society that we can’t see that? And if women WANT to leave the house and work every day, are they “bad moms” because they enjoy that time to themselves, like a “man” does? WOW this article really raised my hackles.

  13. I’m also an extrovert who worked from home for 12 years. As much as I miss working in my PJs and keeping my own hours, there’s something to be said about batting ideas around with a team. It got lonely, and I knew I needed to get out more when I realized I was chatting with everybody in the grocery store.

    I’m so sorry that Yahoo has stepped back in time. I accomplished a lot more at home than I do in a “real” office, due to meetings & interruptions. They’re making a big mistake.

  14. Very well written — it’s an issue close to my heart. (Only qualm? It’s “affecting” not “effecting” in the 5th paragraph.)

  15. Well said! Though I have to disagree with “in-person is still king.” I’ve been working remotely for the past 6+ years (not working for myself as a freelancer, but as a part of a team for large companies) – and there have been plenty of co-workers – some who I even consider close friends – I have never met in person. Like you said, being isolated and separated from the people you work for/with isn’t for everyone – but there are ways to get to know someone without having to stand in front of them. Better ways, perhaps. In person – there’s the awkward chit-chat and pleasantries – and you only know what is offered up to you by that other person. But if everyone is online (and you’re not being creepy about it), you get to discover that awesome mix of personal ramblings on Facebook, family photos on Flickr or artsy shots on Instagram, and the oft-professional link-posting on Twitter. There’s a LOT you can get to know about a person based on their online profile – much more so (in my introverted/somewhat anti-social opinion). And – chatting with co-workers at work on instant message lends itself to being a little more personal sometimes than if you were just out to a lunch during the work day – you can share thoughts privately 1 on 1 much easier than if you were trying to corner that same person at the water cooler. Also – you get the benefit of all the pleasant conversations (and commiserations) – without the after-work drunken (and intolerable) “let’s all complain about work” get togethers.

  16. TOTALLY agree with you! I am also a work-from-home writer, in a strange city (well, still strange…I’ve been here almost a year and haven’t seen much beyond my apartment!) and I can definitely feel you on the need for face time. I’m an introverted person and even I need face-to-face time with people sometimes. Fortunately I work for a company that gets me in the office once in a while, just to remember I’m alive, and I’ve made friends with my local Starbucks baristas. Really, though, as an aspiring novelist, the alone time does have its benefits :)

  17. Totally agree! Such a bad move for office morale.

  18. I can’t take anyone seriously who says things like, ““I’m not a feminist, I just work a lot.”