Working from Home: Yahoo! or Boo?

The recent policy ending the work-from-home option for Yahoo! employees has caused quite an online stir. The story broke over two weeks ago and people are still talking about it (including me, apparently). CEO Marissa Mayer has both been criticized for being out of touch or hypocritical, and praised for making drastic changes to recharge a faltering company. Arguments have been made for the benefits of working from home, including increased productivity, cost-savings for the company and happier employees due to improved work/life balance. Arguments on the other side included the difficulty in collaborating or innovating when physically not together, and that some employees abuse the privilege of working remotely.

Photo of a man working from home by Flickr's JeremyOK

Some of these arguments hold true for any industry and are hard to dispute. Technology is readily available for employees to access shared drives, intranets, email and web conferencing. And conversely, employers can monitor whether employees are actually working instead of catching up on the latest Grumpy Cat postings. If employees were to actually work from the office, then employers could accurately forecast the size and term of a lease that would accommodate an entire staff versus workers that trickle in from time-to-time.

Other points in the debate are less clear-cut. Research has been cited showing either an increase or decrease in productivity by working from home, depending on the study you happen to be reading. The merits of being physically together to spark innovation and facilitate collaboration are used to support working in the office, but can togetherness be outweighed by the ability to work for stretches uninterrupted, allowing one to really dig into a project?

Obviously the needs of Yahoo! are not the needs of everyone. There are individual jobs, departments, and even entire fields, that don’t require collaboration or the in-person connection. As for advertising agency positions, media buyers in many agencies have worked for years from home, only coming into the office for scheduled team meetings. Media planning, historically, has worked in the office. (Someone has to eat the treats that the sales reps drop off, after all.)

One point that I have yet to hear tossed into the soup, though, relates to learning. I have not heard anyone talk about learning being facilitated by physically being together. Let’s face it: we learned a lot in college, but it was only enough to get us started. We’re learning on the job. Hopefully, it’s something new every day, no matter how long we’ve been doing our job. I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of new information from my coworkers. They’re a pretty smart group of people. And if I don’t happen to be the one learning, I may be the one facilitating someone else’s fun fact for the day. It’s the kind of good stuff that is brought up in passing, or because someone asked a question or by overhearing a conversation in the kitchen; it’s not the kind of information that would be passed on in an email, in a scheduled call or a conference report.

Yahoo! certainly has different challenges than we do, and the work-at-home issue isn’t one to be solved easily or soon. But for us, we’re a pretty collaborative bunch in a pretty collaborative business. We all do have days when we work from home to wait for the cable guy or keep an eye on a sick kid, but for the most part, you’ll find us in the office, and I think we’re a stronger team for it. It’s also no fun to go to Happy Hour by yourself. And trust me, you learn stuff at Happy Hour.

Photo Credit: Flickr’s JeremyOK




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  • Jeremy Hiebert

    That’s me hunched in my den in the photo, and I’ve worked from home for nearly a decade now. One thing that doesn’t seem to be part of the recent conversation is personality — extroverts (who often happen to be in management) haven’t tended to understand why introverts need their space and quiet, and that home is the best place for space and quiet. I like going into the office once or twice a month, and would probably benefit from going once a week, just to be a bigger part of what is going on there. But I love the freedom and quiet to work at home without interruptions — definitely more productive.

    • Caret

      Thanks Jeremy, it’s nice to know who is in the photo. Do you play cello?

    • taylorhulyk

      Ahaha, Jeremy, that’s so funny! I’ve always wondered if photo credit ever gets back to the Flickr originator! And introversion is a great point that you bring up. I actually work at re:group and, though I love my coworkers to death, I’m inherently a big introvert like you. I love working from home. I get a lot done. I can ultra focus, and I don’t have to worry about interruptions. Plus, my cats are there, which does a lot for my overall mood. Thanks for chiming in on Karry’s article. And thanks for the pic!

    • Karry Oleszkiewicz

      If you don’t mind my asking, what field are you in? I have found that some fields have folks that are doing independent work, so where you work doesn’t matter, so now I’m curious.

  • Ashley

    For many companies, a lack of structure in scheduling is really the issue. Employees that work at home tend to pick their own days. It would be a lot easier to have scheduled ‘work at home’ days so that you can plan your quiet work for home, and your collaborative meetings for work. To rule that you can never work at home is, in my opinion, counterproductive.

  • This week I am trying out my first telecommute. A good experience so that I can know what it is like for our team who routinely work from home. Some good things, some challenges. But for sure I can avoid the media donuts, bagels and cream cheese, cookies, chocolates and the like. I think telecommuters probability as a group probably weigh les.