There’s a certain narrative surrounding “telecommuting” that goes like this: moms who want a better work-life balance — which is code for “want to work less” — negotiate to work from home. Given that it’s a negotiation, the prevailing wisdom is that they should give up something: pay, prestige, advancement opportunities, etc. They also need to acknowledge that working from home is an un-serious thing to do. And when things need to get serious (like at Yahoo) a way to show you’re serious is that management will bring everyone back in the office.
But what if there are some major flaws with this narrative? That’s the headline coming out of a new survey done by Cali Yost’s Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. group. She polled 556 people who were employed full time. Almost a third (31 percent) did most of their work away from their employer’s location. That means it was done somewhere else: home, coffee shops, a business center, on the road, at multiple clients’ offices, etc. Of these remote workers, 71 percent were men. They were no more likely to be parents than not parents.
In other words, the majority of “remote workers” — the more inclusive term for this concept of not working on your employer’s site daily — are not moms working from home.
I asked Cali about this, and she explained that “We were trying to clarify the entrenched disconnect between the way work is actually happening for [many] employees (e.g. NOT at their employer’s site) today, and the way we still think of ‘work’–everyone goes to the same physical space everyday at the same time.”
“This disconnect is the reason leaders still talk about telework as a ‘program’, ‘policy’ or ‘perk’ used by small, isolated demographics within the organization (women, moms, Gen-Y) , rather than what it has evolved into, which is a fundamental part of many organizations’ operating model. But that doesn’t mean the culture has adapted and caught up to the reality. In many, if not most cases, it hasn’t — again because of this disconnect.”
With modern communication technology, a lot of work really can be done anywhere. If you think about it, a CEO checking his work email at night is technically “working from home” — but that’s not the image that comes to mind when people think of that phrase. Indeed, I suspect Yahoo isn’t against remote work in the sense that people’s smartphones don’t shut down when they leave the office for the evening. It’s OK to work from home at 9 p.m., just not at 10 a.m. But then that becomes a different question of how can you have people in one physical location at certain core hours. It’s not about remote work being bad on its own.
For many businesses, the reality on the ground is that it doesn’t matter if remote work is more or less productive, innovative, flexible, or anything else. It just is. So if you do want to work “from home” sometimes (or anywhere else)? It might be better to keep the phrase “at home” out of it completely. That phrase winds up being more gendered and “parented” than remote work actually is. Better to try to negotiate deliverables coupled with flexibility on work location and hours. That may be perceived in an entirely different category.