• Fri, Mar 1 2013

SAHM No More: Hey Marissa Mayer, Working From Home Doesn’t Have To Be All Or Nothing

work from home momSAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.

One of the biggest complications of being a working parent is figuring out a child care solution that is fail-safe—or close to it. It’s absolutely panic-inducing when you have to figure out how to be in two places at the same time. Which is why I feel extremely lucky in my current job, because, while it is an office-based job, I have a lot of leeway to work at home. This has come in handy multiple times, in the last several months. I’ve been able to stay home and work while my kids were out with the stomach flu. And I didn’t have to worry about finding a sitter when their school was closed for a week due to Hurricane Sandy. And on holidays like Veteran’s Day, when my kids don’t have school but I still have work, I’ve been able to stay home and work remotely. And, really, there are countless times when my job’s flexibility has made parenting easier. The fact that working remotely is an option for me is a huge relief and has made my life immeasurably better.

So when I read that Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, has instituted a ban on working from home because “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” I couldn’t help but have a strong reaction. Mayer is busy trying to revitalize a stagnant company and I can understand —and, for the most part, agree with— her rationale that working side-by-side leads to a more dynamic and collaborative work force.

But I also can’t help but think about the parents who depend on having the ability to work from home on a regular basis, not just in case of emergency. Mayer is known for being a mother who took a very brief maternity leave before heading back to her high-powered job. And Mayer has the benefit of working somewhere that has a comprehensive day care program, so she doesn’t have to worry about the things that many working parents do. Mayer also, obviously, has the benefit of being the CEO of Yahoo, so I’m pretty sure she’s okay anyway.

But what about the rest of us? Thinking about it as objectively as I can, the benefits of working from home are not as great as I thought they’d be. Before I had my current job, the idea of being able to do all my work while sitting in my pajamas all day and eating ice cream out of the carton and listening to whatever music I wanted and still being able to pick my kids up from school would have seemed like heaven.

The reality is that unless I really need to stay home for an emergency, I would always rather be in the office. Telecommuting is not an adequate substitute for seeing my colleagues in person and exchanging ideas and commentary. There’s also something really psychologically important about separating my work life from my home life. I crave that distinction in order to better appreciate the ups-and-downs of both spheres of my life.

However, the lack of flexibility in Yahoo’s new policy seems dismissive of the fact that parenting is never cut-and-dry. Even if parents would prefer to go into the office every day, sometimes the best decision for their families would mean taking one day a week to work at home. And it isn’t as simple as staying home to “wait for the cable guy” which is what the Yahoo policy mentions as a possible reason that employees might not come in to the office. And this isn’t even as simple as more workplaces having child care centers. My kids are too old for daycare but still too young to really be by themselves. There are a million different scheduling issues that need to be figured out for working parents and it’s disappointing that a working mother and brilliant mind like Marissa Mayer doesn’t address the nuances of that in her new policy.

In an ideal professional world, we might all be at the office every day. In an ideal parenting world, we might all be home with our kids every day. But nothing is ideal and the parenting and professional worlds overlap in sometimes frustrating ways. So maybe the best ideal we can hope for is a little bit of understanding toward those people who need to work from home and are still doing the best they can.

(Photo: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Kristin Iversen, on twitter.
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  • alice

    you had me till “However, the lack of flexibility in Yahoo’s new policy seems dismissive of the fact that parenting is never cut-and-dry”

    I really just don’t understand, at all, this concept that businesses have some obligation to be sympathetic and/or uniquely accommodating towards parents. It seems like a really biased perspective. Why parents? What about other groups? How about students?

    “I want to go back to school and get my Masters, but my job won’t let me rearrange my work hours to accommodate my school hours. This business policy is so dismissive of continuing education.”

    • chickadee

      Exactly, and while the author nods briefly towards the fact that Mayer is trying to right a sinking ship, it still doesn’t seem to factor in to her equation. Mayer has most likely done an efficiency study and has determined that the telecommuters are less efficient than those at the office–if they were equally or more efficient I don’t think she’d mess with it. And she doesn’t have a master plan for undermining parents, I am sure.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      “Mayer has most likely done an efficiency study” There has been no mention of such a study being done. It would definitely lend credence to her policy-change if she had that data.

      Also, don’t bash the author for having a parental-perspective about an article posted on a parenting blog.

    • chickadee

      Very true. But it is a logical assumption to make, if you also assume that Mayer is competent and interested in saving Yahoo. And the author opens herself up to criticism by writing in a public forum.

      The problem I have with Mayer’s critics is that they seem to want her to fly the flag of parental interest at all times. They also seem to think that her failure to take more than two weeks’ leave is somehow letting the side down.

    • alice

      exactly. there’s something really weird about assuming (or suspecting) that Mayer made this decision based on specious or spiteful reasons.

      and you’re right, the impetus for this assumption/suspicion is the completely illogical assertion that just because Mayer is a woman, she is obligated to be a *WOMAN CEO* – whatever the hell that means.

    • chickadee

      And I think that women have to walk a pretty fine line in make-dominated industries like technology. They can’t risk being mommy pioneers; they are doing a lot by demonstrating that women are equally deft in this field. This is why I think governmental regulation of leave, on-site child care, and the like ate necessary.

    • Andrea

      When high profile people do something, it is noticeable and a lot of other people in charge are going to think that if she did it, then anyone can do it. Well guess what, if I had had a chofer, a maid, a nanny, a nurse, a chef, and the ability to build a nursery in my office, then I probably would have taken 2 weeks too. But the fact is that most people don’t have a personal army of assistants that make that transition simple. She has the potential to set the standard for something that most people couldn’t possibly accomplish even if they wanted to. Not that anyone should,

    • Eileen

      I think that bashing authors for having parental-perspective on a parenting blog is ridiculous…except for the fact that this particular blog posts about Marissa Mayer very, very frequently, and it’s usually criticism of her that includes the phrase “As a [woman/mom], Marissa Mayer should [...]” It’s kind of annoying.

    • Callie

      Well, I AM a parent and I STILL think the “parental-perspective” is ridiculous. My status as a parent should not have any bearing on the perks (or lack thereof) that I am given at work. My being a parent should not weigh into a company’s decision on telecommuting. Yes, this is a parenting blog, but that doesn’t mean all parents think the same way. There’s nothing “bashing” about disagreeing with an author’s stance on using parenthood as a bargaining chip.

    • kate

      I concur…and in the interest of not sounding like a whiny mom, she could have said “people” not parents…or mentioned any of the above scenarios.

    • astra81

      there was mention on LinkedIn (top story in my feed) on Friday that she requested VPN information & analysis about productivity of telecommuting employees and that was what the decision was based on because MOST WFH employees (parent or not- didn’t specify) showed that the majority were idle more hours than not. Being a well-known data junkie, it makes perfect sense. if the data shows lower productivity from WFH as a whole, not singling anyone out (parents, in particular), why is this NOT the right option? Yahoo is a business, not a daycare when you need it and still get paid operation. I was against her decision until I read the facts that started leaking out (well after the outrage, I might add…)

    • faifai

      Here’s what I’m wondering, as a work from home person–were the workers less productive? Just because you’re idle doesn’t mean that you’re not meeting or exceeding your productivity goals. At our company, you need to have 125% of your production goals to keep your telecommuting status. So we’re expected to do more than in-office people, and if we slip below that, we get brought back in again. It’s actually a great way for the job to pay less in office building upkeep, make a positive environmental statement, brag about employee perks, AND get more work out of us at the same time. And you better believe I go off and take naps and hit up the post office and make dental appointments…

    • Cee

      RIGHT?! This is why the childfree sometimes cannot understand parents. It’s the goddamn entitlement that the world must shift to their needs. She’s not going after parents because of her uterus is angry at people that have babies now that she had one. She’s going after saving the company.

      Like I said, I never hear about a good reason why PEOPLE (not just parents) need telecommuting for the good of the company. All I hear is “wah wah, I can’t watch cartoons with my baby, wah wah, I can’t have lunch with my friends anymooore” Its never “well, I have a health problem but I’m still a valuable asset to the company, yet my disability doesn’t let me drive” or as you pointed out, people going to school. Which is something that can truly move a company forward if it is a major that will have them acquire skills that will benefit the company. It’s always about Marissa Mayer’s angry ovaries taking away parents “right” to be with their child at all times during the job. When parents say “people” need telecommuting, they mean parents. No parent block has cited anything other than parent needs. Everyone would like a perk of not going one day a week, not just you guys.

    • chickadee

      Angry uteri and varies are always amusing.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      Here are some reasons:

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevecooper/2012/07/30/make-more-money-by-making-your-employees-happy/

      http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2012/02/employee_happiness_matters_more_than_you_think.html

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/opinion/sunday/do-happier-people-work-harder.html

      http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/07/21/engaged-workers-are-happier-more-productive/27947.html

      http://h30565.www3.hp.com/t5/Feature-Articles/Telecommuting-Creates-Happier-and-More-Productive-Employees/ba-p/1834

      Traffic, lack of parking, lost time in the workday affect all people, not just parents. It doesn’t have to boil-down to a medical condition or an all-or-nothing situation. Any company can realize the benefits of telecommuting and actually make it profitable.

      I’ll reiterate in my other response: Don’t bash the author about having a parental-perspective in an article posted on a parenting blog.

      Thank you.

    • alice

      i’m not bashing her for having a parental perspective. (i’m not even bashing)

      but i am criticizing her for comparing apples to oranges here.

      the author’s personal pros and cons of telecommuting (ice cream in pj’s, work life balance, missing colleagues, etc) have absolutely NOTHING to do with any business owner’s decision to permit work-from-home.

      business owners are not elected representatives of the employee base. they do not make their decisions (solely) based on what we like.

      and it’s 1000% wrong to flatly state “any company can realize the benefits of telecommuting and actually make it profitable.” telecommuting depends on technology. technology is not free or universal or easily sustainable. and this isn’t even addressing the myriad of security risks involved with telecommuting.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      OK. But in Yahoo’s case, they already have a telecommuting infrastructure. The employees weren’t asking Mayer to invent the wheel – they already had work-from-home technology established.

      If Mayer comes forward and says she’s eliminating telecommuting because of ongoing cost or security-risk, then I’ll accept that (and laugh at her). But she’s taking this perk away because of some envisioned productivity-boost – of which we will all have to wait and see if it ever comes about.

      I’m really curious if, after this, what it will take for Yahoo to reinstate telecommuting for employees. 5% drop in profits? 10% of engineering leaving the company? Mayer admitting she was wrong?

    • alice

      I see your point. But I still can’t help but feel that a lot of the negative reaction is from taking the Yahoo “Letter to Employees” a little too literally.

      Did the letter talk about profit losses, productivity declines, efficiency reports? No.

      But would you expect it to? And is it within an employee’s expectations to receive that information?

      I saw the letter as putting a nice spin on a shitty subject. And I guess when it comes down it, I just give Mayer and Yahoo the benefit of the doubt, that they made this change as a solution to a problem.

    • meghan

      an infrastructure that they were abusing.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      Then the sensible thing would be to address the abusers and leave alone those who are using it as a beneficial tool for the good of the company.

      Instead, Mayer issues this ultimatum and now Yahoo is on the front page and under everyone’s magnifying glass.

    • Andrea

      If you have productivity or security problems with your company, you don’t need better policies, you need better employees

    • alice

      Yeah, it’s basically a delusion of grandeur that *my personal preferences* should be weighed by CEOs and policy deciders.

      It’s only within the recent years, with better technological advances, that some companies can permit work-from-home scenarios without compromising productivity, quality, or security. And those companies don’t make that allowance lightly.

      Prior to this, parents were still somehow making it work, in the workforce, together.

      But in the last ten years, as we see and hear of work-from-home options increasing, it’s like now we *DESERVE* it.

      I don’t know. There’s something offputting about campaigning for equal rights in the workforce for decades, but then complaining that businesses are being unsympathetic towards moms since the advent of work-from-home technologies made it possible for them to work-from-home.

    • Andrea

      I want to preface by saying that I agree that work/life balance is for EVERYONE and not just parents. EVERYONE.

      You asked what happened “prior to this”. Well, prior to this the workplace was usually populated only by men. Until recently (and 20 years IS recent) women did not work 8 to 5s and if they did they were unmarried. Until recently, there was no technology that allowed this.

      So why shouldn’t things be different now? Why shouldn’t technology allow us for a BETTER work place balance instead of tethering us even more to our work? Why shouldn’t EVERYONE (not just parents) enjoy more productivity. more creativity and better life by telecommuting? Why shouldn’t we allow for better work and life balance for EVERY worker? Why would this CEO set back workers benefits by a DECADE?

    • whiteroses

      Cee, you are aware that you’re commenting on a parenting blog site, yes?

    • Cee

      Because all the other parents are all agreeing with her, yes?

    • meteor_echo

      To be honest, I’m childfree and I think that Marissa Mayer is a special snowflake. The whole “I don’t care about you guys but I’ll have my babby near me at all the times” thing is so hypocritical, I’m losing the ability to can.

  • AlexMMR

    As someone who really prefers to work from home, I still don’t think any company has any obligation to sacrificing the needs of the business to accommodate the personal needs of the workforce. Would it be nice? Of course. Would it make life easier and inspire loyalty? Yup. Are there business considerations above and beyond employee morale? Very often, yes, and those are what keep the business functioning so those concerns must take priority.

    What is it about being an office worker that makes people feel like all of the employee desires should be met? I don’t see many cashiers, servers, or mechanics complaining about the stifling rules that they must be physically present at their place of employment.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      Right now, the technology does not exist for a server to telecommute your meal to you at your table.

      Right now, the technology does not exist for a cashier to telecommute the change for your purchase to your wallet.

      Right now, the technology does not exist for a mechanic to telecommute the repair to your car in the shop garage.

      In order for a cashier, server, and mechanic to perform the job they are paid to do, they must be physically present at their place of employment.

      HOWEVER, the technology DOES exist for a Yahoo programmer to telecommute and program his or her changes to Yahoo software securely, efficiently, and effectively.

      I fail to see the benefit of having these face-to-face meetings if all the faces are angry.

  • Rebecca

    My husband works from home 3 or 4 days a week and i fully appreciate how lucky we are! We have 3 kids (2 pre-k and a newborn) and no family close by so its a huge relief to me to have him around.i do think they’re going to lose a lot of talented programmers with this policy though. In this field its pretty much standard to allow telecommuting and i know my husband has turned down jobs for companies that had strict policies limiting it.i can understand monitoring workers that work remote frequently but to ban it outright seems like a bad idea.i understand there are lots of jobs that require workers to be in the office all the time, so it seems silly to some people to complain about, but this isn’t the industry standard and they’ll pay for it in talent.

    • Lawcat

      Google and Facebook allow limited to no telecommuting. while I agree it’s pretty common in the tech field, if your competitors aren’t doing it, there’s probably a reason. There’s a lot of talented programmers out there. A LOT. Almost everyone is replaceable.

  • ted

    the working from home discussion loses me when people argue for it based on the need to take care of children. If you’re at home taking care of your kids, you’re not working. You can do both but that means you’re not putting in a full 8 hour day (or 10,12 etc). This means you’re not putting in the hours work expects you to and is paying you for. Why should companies be thrilled about this? I am fortunate to work for a company that is ok with me telecommuting once in a blue moon for a sick child or something similar but both of us know that if that is the reason I’m home, I’m not focusing only on work and it will likely be tough for me to put in a true 8 hours of work which is what my salary is based on. We both know it and they allow it once in a while because it’s worth keeping a good employee and there are all kinds of days I work more than my expected hours.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      But from a managerial perspective, I’m getting 5 extra hours of work from you by allowing you to telecommute.

      If I didn’t allow telecommuting, you’d be focusing 100% of your day on your sick child and I get 0 hours of work from you for that day.

      In some situations, especially for six-figure top-engineering talent at Yahoo facing deadlines, this makes absolute sense.

    • alice

      To be fair, the discussion is not about irregular circumstances like “those three times a year when my kid is sick and i could work from home.” The discussion is about work-from-home arrangements, like at yahoo, where employees simply worked from home, regularly (be it one or two days each week, or more)

    • Scoop007

      I work from home full time and am also a parent. The point isn’t that telecommuting parents want their child home with them all day, that isn’t the flexibility we are talking about. Working from home means that I can drive my daughter to school and pick her up without missing work. That if she forgets her lunch or needs to come home sick, I can handle it without missing work. If she has a game, I can attend it without missing work. If she needs to go to the dentist, I can take her without missing work. It allows for a greater work-life balance which in turn makes me a better employee-and one that misses far less time than my in office co-workers.

    • whiteroses

      This. So much this.

    • faifai

      Ok. You’ve won me over on the “telecommuting is great for parents” argument.

    • ted

      like Alice said-this is mainly about regular telecommuting. My comment was based on the fact that if I’m telecommuting because it allows me an alternative to childcare, I’m not going to be able to put in a full 8 day. There is no way I can focus on a child and work and be anywhere near as productive as I would be if I was sitting at my desk not coloring or baking or playing. The hour I spend commuting still doesn’t make up for that. I’m not arguing against telecommuting if you’re sitting in your home office, door closed, spending 8 hrs a day working. I am saying if you’re wanting to telecommute because it’s a way to solve a childcare problem, I absolutely see why companies say no.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      That’s fair. If you’re missing your deliverables, then the manager is forced into the position of questioning the telecommuting. Then you have to micro-manage every minute of the workday until deliverables are met.

      It shouldn’t matter if you meet your goals after 1 hour or 8 hours of work. As long as you get the job done that was asked.

      Mayer’s implementation is, IMO, wrong (taking it away from everyone).

      Plus, she now has to deal with finding out who is leaking confidential memos.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      I agree, and that’s why I’m very much for a flexible working arrangement if it works for a company. It just may not have been for Yahoo.

  • sarah

    i work from home and most of it is done with my daughter is in preschool a few hours a week, napping, has gone to bed or has a sitter for a few hours a day while i’m here. i can definitely get as much work in as anyone who worked from an office! it’s a challenge, that’s for sure, but it would be far more challenging to arrange for full time child-care and miss work all together on sick days, when i didn’t have childcare, school was closed, etc. parents absolutely can be productive from home. for me, it was work from home or don’t work because of huge daycare costs and just generally wanting to be present for my child. it’s the best of both worlds and it’s a shame more parents don’t get this option.

  • rywo

    Yet again, why must the world cater to parents?

    • whiteroses

      It shouldn’t. It’s not just about the parents. It’s about the fact that NOBODY can telecommute. At least, that’s why I find this whole thing outrageous. I am not now, nor have I ever been, the type of mother who insists that everyone get the hell out of my way because, hey, I have a baby.

      I’ll say to you the same thing I said to Cee. You are aware this is a parenting blog site, are you not? So chances are good that any articles you read will be skewed towards parents.

    • Belle

      And sadly, there are people think that parents can’t use their brains to think about anything outside of parenting. As this blog does often cover current affair style things, that are not always pare-centric, I don’t see why we have to get all up in arms about this being a “parents issue”, because it simply isn’t.

      My brain didn’t cease to exist once I popped a few kids out.

    • meteor_echo

      I agree with you on your points about telecommuting, but stop with the “it’s a parenting blog site”, please. Are you aware that at least one writer here is childfree, and that we all can express our opinions here – even on parenting, too?

    • Cee

      Thank you! I am childfree yet can relate to a lot of what parenting blogs have to offer cuz I work with children in one of the biggest districts in the country, have spent half my college career studying child development and advocacy and was once trying to conceive. Saying shit like “this is a parenting site” furthers the divide between the childfree and parents because it says we have nothing to contribute to the dialogue, ignoring the gray are between chIldfree (teachers, child care workers, infertile couples, trying to conceive) and parents . How will we ever want to champion your causes if we cannot learn from or critique your point of view?

  • Shores

    Why should businesses allow telecommuting if it doesn’t work for THEM? Lots of people would love to work from home, maybe even “need” to work from home just as much as these people do, but they don’t get that option. You don’t hear them complaining about actually going in to work to do their jobs. In this economy, I’m betting a lot of these people are easily replaceable.

  • Anon

    The pro-Mayer comments here only illustrate what an F*ced up country the USA is and what a f*cked up mentality Americans have. The US is the only industrialized Western country in the world WITHOUT paid and mandated maternity leave. Even many third world countries have better maternity and health benefits than the US. Mayer is not friend to women at large. A Republican businessman CEO with ties to military manufacturing would have been more woman-friendly than her. Telecommuting is the future. The American culture of long, tedious, environmentally-polluting commutes, abysmal vacation leave, no national healthcare…and now this. Americans pretty much deserve what they get with this kind of attitude.

    • once upon a time

      Maternity leave and telecommuting are entirely different kettles of fish (fishes?).

      Paid maternity leave is about recognising that women have a genuine and biological need for recovery following childbirth.

      Telecommuting is about providing the perfect working environment for mothers, potentially at the risk of the company.

      If you can’t afford to childcare or to stay at home, don’t have children. I say this as someone who accidentally fell pregnant and, with my partner, weighed our options very carefully before deciding to go ahead with it. Having a child is a choice, and every choice has a consequence. It’s not up to the government or big business to prevent people from having to deal with these consequences.

  • YahooWifey

    It’s because, on investigation, some remote workers hadn’t logged in for many weeks, a few were caught out in the months category. She checked after the situation with the guy paying the Chinese dude to do his job. In Australia, at the very least, it actually isn’t impacting work at home parents. I should know, my husband is one.