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:
- Get up by 8am, and at least TRY to go to the gym.
- Wear real clothes.
- Client work comes first (gotta make that dough).
- Absolutely no ordering takeout.
- 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.
We are seeing the end of the over-the-top ego-driven male CEO (and hopefully all of their tweets about crushin’ it!) and heading into a more manageable, employee-friendly time. I have no doubt that flexibility is the future, and that future is being created by forward-thinking women.