Thu. February 28
Thou Shalt Not Work From Home
A fascinating thing occurred last week in the ever changing world of work. The CEO of Yahoo! ordered that working from home was no longer an option for the company’s employees. Citing a greater desire for communication and collaboration, the memo from HR was positive in nature but definitive in message: work in the office or don’t work here anymore. Needless to say this decision has received about just as much support as Jonah Lehrer’s apology speech.
There are two parts of this story which have likely pushed it to the national spotlight. The first is the CEO herself. Marissa Mayer is famous for a) being so young, b) being a woman, and c) having a child in September 2012 and miraculously going back to work just two weeks later. As someone who works in a technology business where almost everything can be done remotely and who would be likely to understand the benefits of working from home, Mayer seems like the last person to adopt such an unwavering policy.
The second is what we know about working from home in a scholarly sense. Though research in this area is relatively new, working from home definitely decreases commute time, increases an individual’s ability to have work-family balance, and may allow for increased performance and satisfaction. However, the major downside for working from home has to do with a lack of face to face contact – not just Skype but actually being in the presence of another human being. In the worst case scenario, these pros and cons might be considered a wash, but on the surface, they do not appear to be something that Mayer needed to crush like a grape.
But she did. This 37 year old, female, mother of one, who works in the technology business (I picture almost everyone just staring at a computer all day with little human contact) shut down home work. What perplexed me most about this story is not the reasons why she made the decision – clearly she values communication and collaboration to such a degree she is willing to upset a lot of people – but the resulting national outrage.
I think we can all agree that Mayer is a smart and capable boss. I am not sure how you can run Yahoo! at 37 otherwise. I think we can all agree that Mayer knows more about Yahoo! than all of her critics combined. And I think we can all agree that Mayer has some knowledge of the difficulties of going into work every day while also having a family (Yes she can afford more help than the rest of us, but still). If we all agree on these principles, why is it that we still react with such vitriol versus simple curiosity? Before contemptuously criticizing such decisions with likely only a sliver of the behind-the-scenes information we need, maybe we can all take a bit more time understanding the why before demonizing the what.
Ryan Duffy is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Florida.