Working From Home Not A Terrible Thing


Working at home isn’t for everyone. As a writer, I work according to what Y Combinator’s Paul Graham calls the “maker’s schedule.” My job requires long stretches of distraction-free time, and my output, on any particular day, is sensitive to my mood and environment. Working at home gives me the freedom to adjust these variables to maximum effect: Sometimes I find that I write better if I start a column after dinner, while other times I hit a wall during the middle of the day, take an hour off to get a snack and jump in the shower, and then come back to produce a magnificent column about pajamas.

You might work differently. Maybe your mind is best primed by conversations with your co-workers about Downton Abbey. That’s fine. The point—and this is hardly groundbreaking—is that different people work differently. Any organization whose success depends on maximizing its workers’ productivity ought to allow their employees some degree of flexibility.

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo says that Marissa Mayer has made a terrible mistake by implementing a new plan requiring all employees to work at Yahoo offices instead of remotely at home. I agree with Manjoo in that people work differently, and the most efficient way to work is often the one that simply works. I love having office space available to me and am at the office mostly every day. A lot of the other editors in our network prefer working from home. And sometimes, the most productive thing you can do for your job is to simply go home (which is a lesson I’m still trying to learn).

Photo: Tech Crunch50-2008

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18 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I think this might be a question of scale. In a smaller company, where it is easier to monitor employee outputs, allowing people to work remotely make sense. However, a work from home scenario is definitely open to abuse. It may be that when you’re working on a larger scale, as Yahoo does, there may be a tipping point where productivity and accountability is hampered more by allowing workers to stay home than it is by forcing them into the office.

Yogi (#2,872)

@EvanDeSimone Agreed. I’m thinking that they aren’t able to tell who is really producing from home and this is a way to figure that out, trim the fat, and keep the productive employees. I have a feeling that once this is done they’ll reinstate telecommuting.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@Yogi Or, more generally, they just need to trim some jobs but want to save on severance packages, so eliminated working from home to get some people to up and quit.

Yogi (#2,872)

@Worker Parasite Maybe. If so, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who quit (if people do bc of this). It’s your JOB, you kinda have to work where they tell you to.

My thinking on them eventually reinstating teleworking: it obviously makes them more competitive w/other tech companies to offer it when they’re looking for new talent.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@Yogi Yeah, I think your theory is more likely than mine, and I struggle to see how they’ll attract talent without telecommuting. Then again, it is Yahoo, how are they still relevant?!

hellonheels (#1,407)

@Yogi But if you agreed to take the job with the stipulation that you would be able to telecommute some or all of the time, it doesn’t really seem fair that the terms should change.

I actually do agree with your theory. The saving on severance theory doesn’t really make sense to me given that the first people they would lose would be the top of the heap, since they will have the easiest time finding new jobs. I’m sure that will still happen, but I doubt its their objective.

bgprincipessa (#699)

I’ve never had the option so I don’t have much of an opinion on this, but I just wanted to thank you for NOT using that picture of Marissa Mayer where she is running her hand through her hair and is clearly mid-word. Why is everyone using that repeatedly? http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article8512049.ece/ALTERNATES/w380h220/Marissa_Mayer.jpg

OllyOlly (#669)

I didn’t get the idea that discontinuing work at home options for Yahoo had to do with productivity. Yahoo seems to be continually getting further and further behind on innovation and the other big tech companies are always talking about their campuses – keeping people on campus and working/brainstorming together. She is trying to catch up my mimicking the environment the other companies innovate in.

I think it would make more sense to compromise on this and allow people at home time to brainstorm/work but also require some in office time to build a certain dynamic.

Either way I am not putting money on Yahoo becoming relevant again.

oiseau (#1,830)

I think that especially in the case of a vastly large company like Yahoo, a sense of community/working toward a common goal is easily lost. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with other people, seeing them every day, and developing new relationships with your coworkers is important, I think, especially when working on shared projects and goals. At a magazine, writers publish under their own name and feel personal accountability for what they produce. At Yahoo, it could be that group members are underperforming or skating by since it’s easier to play the blame game and hide behind other members of the group.

lizard (#2,615)

i dont think working at your actual office is something to complain about. Most dont get the luxury of working remotely and if your boss wants it you have to suck it up and get to the office. plus i bet they have a dope cafeteria

ImASadGiraffe (#982)

Pretty timely, as we just got the OK to work from home (50% of the time) yesterday. I’m at home now and it’s pretty awesome. I have a long-ish commute (3/4 mile walk to train plus 25 minutes on the train), so being able to sleep in a bit more and start work with a hot homemade cup of coffee is really nice. Also, my co-workers are very distracting so that is also a plus.

I do remote IT assistance for a huge gov’t agency, I take phone calls via my home office that are routed through a call server. It works really well!

Megano! (#124)

I am definitely more productive if I have an office to go to than if I have to work at home — there’s simply too much distraction at home. However, if I have a really hard and fast deadline I do get stuff done at home. But I have a dog, so ideally I would either be able to bring him with me to work, or do like 50/50.

@Megano! I would definitely like a 50/50 type split!

I find I get more done at home as it’s quiet (no dog) and no distractions. But on the other hand, some things are just easier when you’re all in the same place (more thoughts on that here: http://nzmuse.com/2012/05/working-from-home/)

ellabella (#1,480)

Yeah, it seems to me like you could encourage cooperation and innovation and whatnot by having people come into the office some but not all of the time. I don’t really understand why this wasn’t implemented instead OR why basically none of the media surrounding this decision points out this reasonable/efficient compromise.

I think working from home is a privilege that needs to be earned. If you’re a new hire to the company, why would you expect your boss to let you work off site when you haven’t even proved that you can produce satisfactory work while in the office?

Then again, my views on the whole subject are based off of my previous supervisor’s experience. We didn’t yet have an office in the city she was in, so she would commute twice a week and “work from home” for the rest of the time. She would maybe answer emails within a few hours and very rarely was her phone on.

@Kimberly Alison@twitter agreed. I would say I never did any work-from-home days (aside from sick days) for about my first year.

hellonheels (#1,407)

@Kimberly Alison@twitter In some industries that may be true but in the Silicon Valley tech world, which has not been overly affected by the economic downturn and in which most potential employees have either been headhunted or have the leverage of already having a good job, bargaining for this type of benefit right out of the gate is not uncommon. I would venture a guess that most of the people affected by this signed on with the agreement that telecommuting would be an option.

deepomega (#22)

The “Maker’s Schedule” thing is complete bullshit though. There’s a lot of research that says that people aren’t more productive on creative projects at random hours, they just feel like they are, and also that working with actual timelines improves productivity.

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