If you missed it, Yahoo!’s* new CEO decided this week that her employees can no longer work from home. At the very least, her move started a national if not international debate: Employees Will Abuse The Freedom vs. The Flexibility Cat Chewed Through The Bag Years Ago. Who’s right?
Neither, but Ms. Mayer is less right than her newly disgruntled employees.
Regardless of how many readily quotable experts insist that productivity increases through the synergistic collaboration of having employees physically present together, we assure you that it is a treacherous lie.
Speaking from experience, your former wage-slave blogger used to work at an advertising agency; that most “collaborative” and “”creative”” of environments. (Yes, there are two sets of quotation marks around that word. Advertising is about as creative a profession as shepherding is.) To the insurance broker or paralegal, whose every step at work is regimented, an advertising agency sounds and looks like Zion. Relaxed dress codes, open floor plans, accommodation for unorthodox personalities, etc. The kind of accoutrements that ought to make people look forward to going to work in the morning. If any environment should benefit from having employees in physical proximity, that’d have to be it, right?
Hell and no. The life-saving transition from employee to contractor to self-employed required doing the same work from home. It tripled productivity.
How? Because there’s an element of randomness to most things, and the notion that everyone on the planet is forever at their most productive from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (or 8 p.m or 9 p.m., if you want to impress the Marissa Mayer in your life) is ridiculous. Also, the weather is usually nice during the day – at the very least, it’s sunnier than it is during traditional non-working hours – which means there are streets to walk on, golf courses to play, and literal mountains to climb.
After a refreshing day of the leisure activity of your choice, and the psychological high that you get from the feeling that you’re putting one over both on societal norms and the suckers who have to punch a clock, it might (or might not) be time to get down to business. In the toil of choice – in this particular case, writing advertising copy and commercial scripts – there was no practical reason for having to sit in an office with people of somewhat similar job descriptions. In fact, not being in that milieu was itself a positive jolt to productivity. In a dedicated home workplace, there are no distractions. Or at least the distractions are easier to control. No co-workers taking advantage of the open floor plan by invading one’s poorly delineated personal space and capitalizing on one’s time. No racial sensitivity workshops. No pressure to have lunch with people whom you wouldn’t want to spend 30 seconds in an elevator with, let alone an hour at Applebee’s. And no burning 45 minutes or so in traffic, each way.
Obviously some jobs can’t be done at home, but lifeguards and coal miners aren’t part of this discussion. A job that, at its most elemental level, involves transporting electrons to select places is a job that can be done anywhere.
Ms. Mayer might have a secondary agenda. Perhaps she’s doing this to assert her authority. Maybe it’s a test of her employees’ commitment to the cause that is the almighty Yahoo! Either way, the onus is on the inconvenienced employees to get in a position of self-determination.
Come on. If Yahoo!’s most productive telecommuting employee doesn’t want to go in the office and says as much, she won’t have to. Mayer isn’t going to walk away from the spread (said employee’s contribution to the bottom line minus said employee’s salary) if it’s big enough. That’s just bad business.
Mayer isn’t being unfair. It’s her company, her rules. She can require employees to work in offices with tepid coffee and cumbersome parking, and it’s up to those employees to decide if they’re going to stand for it. But if you’re not an employee, and if you derive your income from lots of sources rather than a solitary one, you’re not at anyone’s capricious whim. Mandated hindrance is something you can take or leave.
Assuming that you’re an employee, as most people are, the road to independence is obscured. You’ve probably heard 3rd-hand stories about how difficult it is to navigate and how many potholes there are. Resisting the temptation to take this road analogy any further, just spend a few bucks on our book and stop being trod upon.
*Ms. Mayer, if you really want to do something simultaneously revolutionary and atavistic, how about reverting to standard naming conventions for your company and thus getting rid of that stupid exclamation point? If you put “Yahoo!” at the end of a statement, does it require a period? If you put “Yahoo!” in the middle of a sentence, it looks like the end of a sentence. If you make a possessive out of Yahoo!, as we did above, then you have to immediately follow one punctuation mark with another. In fact, we just had to do so again. See? Thanks for nothing.