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Dear Marissa Mayer, some things I’d like to share about working from home

/ Feb 28, 2013 9:48AM / Print / ()

Dear Marissa Mayer, some things I’d like to share about work...

It's not every day that I impart advice to a well-known CEO. But in the case of your much talked-about move to issue a ban on working from home at Yahoo, I feel I have something to offer on this particular occasion as I've personally managed plenty of staff who've worked from home.

I understand your staff received an internal memo from HR recently decreeing that employees who currently work from home will need to be in the office as of June. I know this because every news outlet in the Western world appears to have covered and analysed the announcement to death. Possibly not the greatest PR strategy for your graduate program.

I also understand – this time based purely on sources quoted in Business Insider this week – that Yahoo appears to have struggled to keep tabs on the employees it currently has working from home and that perhaps some team members were exploiting the option. Employees were apparently "slacking off like crazy, not being available [and] spending a lot of time on non-Yahoo! projects".

It sounds like the work from home policy – if it was even a policy – was largely mismanaged.

So was banning the option the right move? I don't think so. Here's why:

Issuing a blanket ban on working from home isn't fair

I bet there were Yahoo employees working from home on their idea of the next big social media site. It's an entrepreneurial, technology company so you're bound to get entrepreneurial types who'll see an opportunity to earn a full-time salary while pursuing their personal projects on the side. But that's more of a sign of management failure.

Do work from home employees check-in with their team every day, do they visit the office at the beginning and end of projects to brief and debrief? Is their progress measured against specific goals and KPIs? 

And how about the employees legitimately and successfully working from home? Those employees who may have arranged caring responsibilities around their work hours or perhaps live a long distance from the office – do they have to suffer because of a mismanaged strategy?

Perhaps they won't suffer at all. They may merely take their talent and ideas elsewhere.

Meaningful interactions can still occur online

You don't need me to explain this, you do head up a technology company and have personally achieved some brilliant things around usability at Google. But given Yahoo has cited a need for human interaction as part of its reason for the ban, I will: faster broadband, mobile computing and excellent social media and communication technologies mean we can interact with our colleagues just as much – if not more – than we can if they're sitting in the same room.

Indeed, you may find employees are already putting in overtime – on the couch, while out for drinks with friends, sitting around the dinner table – by using their mobile devices to continue to interact with colleagues outside of work hours.

You could well get less out of these employees when they return to the office
The sad truth is that many employees who see working from home as a luxury can end up working an additional three hours a day, according to recent research by the University of Melbourne. Instead of the one hour commute to the office, they'll jump on the computer. Instead of mindless banter with colleagues, they'll actually continue working. Three extra hours a day, five days a week -- that's a lot of overtime to lose simply for having employees show up to an office.

Traffic is stressful and makes people miserable
For those of us who catch a bus or train to work in the middle of summer, the morning and afternoon commute can feel like a military training operation in resilience. It's stressful, tiring and means we all end up a little more cranky than if we could simply teleport to and from the office. For those of us who drive, being stuck wasting time in traffic is frankly depressing. Commuting not only affects our health, but also out planet. It's a waste of time, energy and carbon.

The option to work from home one or two days a week could make employees happy
Working from home is not for everyone – and the idea of working from home full-time will sound like an absolute nightmare to some. But the option to experiment with a day or two a week in a controlled and measured way could truly change an employee's life. It could alleviate stress, see them become productive, allow them to work to their own intensity at different times of the day and also provide them with more opportunity to fit in a little bit of exercise, or even the option to pick the kids up from school.

Telework and flexible work options will make life easier for women – but only if leaders champion it
Flexible work options have long had a bad a reputation: from colleagues considering you're "not ambitious" because you're working part-time to others asking if you get out your pajamas when you work from home (do you take your pajamas off on the weekend?).

To truly become mainstream, we need leaders to champion and demonstrate flexible work. You don't need to be this champion – although as a much admired leader who's recently had a child it would certainly help the rest of us to hear a little more encouragement about the legitimacy of such options – but you could do more to see your senior staff better demonstrating such arrangements.

What would you tell Marissa Mayer about working from home? Leave your thoughts below.

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