JANE, YOU IGNORANT SLUT: I was reminded of this famous line (from the glory days of Saturday Night Live) as I mulled a recent blog post proclaiming the death of telecommuting, sounded by new Yahoo honcho Marissa Mayer when she announced there would be no more work from home at the Internet behemoth.
I’ve lived on both sides of that employment fence; been the loyal office worker bee and now I work from home. Both have ups and downs.
Sure Mayer stuck her neck out with the change in policy, but she has done so at the peril of the new shadow workforce, which I dwell in as a work-from-home contract writer/editor. We WFH zombies, both full-time and contract workers, provide the fuel that fires the engine of the World Wide Web.
In her post lauding Mayer’s new policy, Penelope Trunk details how Facebook has something called “lock-down” where kids can visit mom and dad at work because they’ve been chained to their cubicles. Well, not literally chained, but you get the idea.
She argues that companies such as Facebook and Yahoo are led by people who invest so much of themselves in “big and important things,” that their employees should live the job as well.
SORRY, PENNY BUT LMAO: “Sorry son, I have to miss your first baseball game, so I can stay here and get the weekly toilet paper count report completed. Couldn’t count the rolls from home, ya know.”
Mark Twain once said “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics.” Trunk goes on at some length talking about a Harvard Business Review study that shows innovation happens faster if people are in the same office and a company is easier to control and more energizing if workers share physical space.
Being in the same room brings about something called “propinquity”, Trunk opined. Don’t worry if you have to look it up, I did, too. If Wikipedia can be believed, it means physical closeness can bring about a kinship. But it also said that two people with similar political beliefs (or perhaps a vested interest in making a business succeed) also have propinquity.
WFH: A BUNCH OF LOLLYGAGGING GOLD-BRICKERS: I don’t envy Mayer and her job to bring Yahoo under control. With all its many objectives, one has to wonder if Yahoo is, in fact, too big to succeed?
If Mayer is naïve enough to believe that bringing everyone under a common roof will make the company the next… well, Google? then she is living in a cultural past that is way out of step with her smart phone-carrying employees.
I understand Mayer feels obligated to get the company under control. But in the process she is throwing the shadow workers under the bus as do-nothing, lollygagging, gold-brickers, sponging off the backs of office dwellers.
Forget that management sold us on work from home not long ago, with the lure of the flexibility to care for little Janie or dying Aunt Sadie.
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN: So along comes my hero CNBC’s Herb Greenberg — a former WFH zombie with more than 10 years of experience creating from his domicile.
Greenberg blogs the positives in working from home, not the least of which is no commute, so a worker is more productive. Take that, WFH haters!
While there is a creative synergy that comes from being around others, Greenburg points out a phone call or social media message can provide the same results. Personally, many business communications are clearer and more effective when done with via email, IM’s and Skype. When people take the time to email, they get right to the point.
CLOSING BELL: Calling the kids in from a perceived employment recess so the adults can supervise them is the kind of top-down, Big Brother management style that temporarily resonates as a sign of “I’m in control now” but could ultimately chill the creative process.
If this is about accountability, come right out and say it, Marissa. Call a spade a spade. Say you don’t trust your employees to monitor themselves. Call them in, lay down the law and give them a deadline to show results. There’s a new sheriff in town.
But if you want real results, don’t throw everything away by forcing a major culture shift. Take the time to look at what is working in your corporate environment and foster the success stories.
I know work from home doesn’t fit every situation, but it isn’t the great Satan that some might believe it to be. Being fair doesn’t always mean being equal. But working smart and getting the best from a variety of working styles is always good business.
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Photo credit: Greg Peters