Friday links: the work from home edition

I was on Baltimore’s WBAL this morning talking about this week’s major workplace conversation topic: working from home.

Yahoo — under the leadership of CEO Marissa Mayer — just elected to cancel all work-from-home arrangements in the interest of becoming “one Yahoo.” I wrote over at CBS MoneyWatch that Yahoo is wrong: Working from home is productive. Later in the week, though, I wrote about Why Friday is the worst day to work from home. When people try to negotiate work-from-home agreements, they often ask for Friday first. I think there are some solid reasons to ask for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday instead — if you want to keep the focus on productivity (as opposed to whether your boss thinks you’re sneaking in a long weekend).

I also appreciated Cali Yost’s post that we should stop focusing on Marissa Mayer somehow being a traitor to the cause of working motherhood, and instead be thankful for this opportunity. The reality is that many companies cancel work-from-home policies and it never makes the news. Because it was Mayer, it did, and so we can now have a national conversation on this topic.

I also slipped in a piece at on 6 ways to survive your hellishly long commute for those Yahoo employees who now face one.

Now for some other links on various topics.

Gretchen Rubin wrote about the “broken window theory,” as applied to one’s personal life, over at the Happiness Project. In criminal justice, the broken windows theory means that when a community tolerates small, visible crimes (graffiti, turnstyle jumping) it sends the message that no one cares, and so criminals feel they can get away with bigger crimes. In Gretchen’s life, she writes that certain “broken windows” make her feel overwhelmed and out of sorts: unsorted mail, messy stacks of newspapers, cluttered counters.

My thinking, looking at this list, is that just as Gretchen has found that people often fall into two categories (“Satisficers” vs. “Optimizers”; “Moderators” vs. “Abstainers”), the universe should be divided into categories of people who are bothered by mess, and people who are not. To me, my unsorted mail — and whoa, is it unsorted! — just means that I haven’t sorted my mail. It has nothing to do with whether I finish my work projects on time, spend time playing with my kids, etc. See my old post Your cupboard is not a metaphor for life for more on this.

The Frugal Girl asked her readers for advice on how to talk with one’s spouse about money. There are some fascinating cautionary tales in the comments.

I am reading The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. I’ll review it soon.

Kimberly FitzSimons learns to take control of her mornings.

Hilary of San Diego Moms writes about “Me-Time Guilt” and how she realized that just as kids need time to play — a philosophy she gets fully behind — adults need time to play too. That’s part of being human.

Mary Catherine Starr writes about 3 life lessons from my time makeover

Lenore Skenazy (Free Range Kids) runs a guest post about the iPad playdate (and an alternative)

I’m trying to carve out time these days to ponder what my next book topic will be. I want to come up with a Big Business Book idea, and so I have actually taken to calling it the BBB. The BBB turns out to be an elusive creature, in that I have to want to spend the next two years of my life thinking about it. Not many topics clear that hurdle. Ideas welcome!




20 thoughts on “Friday links: the work from home edition

  1. I”m surprised that it seems to be all or nothing for many people. A compromise such as only work 1-2 days from home and have more face-time at work is more reasonable (to me). I also agree that asking to work from home on any day but Friday is better. I think most people are more productive on other days and it’s more tempting to slack off on Fridays.

    1. @Oilandgarlic – I agree that this is one area where “balance” (how I loathe that word otherwise!) is smart. Two days at home, three in the office seems good for people who work closely with others. Yes, you need interaction, but you also need space. Seeing each other 5 days a week is often overkill. Obviously, this doesn’t work with all jobs, but if it does, I also really like the idea of doing Wednesdays as a work-from-home day. You are ready for a break from the commute by then.

    2. I think in Yahoo’s case, a lot of the remote workers were in places where there was no office (ad sales).

      I do love the idea of working from home a few days a week, or even just 1.

      Most people choose Fridays because those have the least meetings and more people working from home so it’s more “normal” to have teleconferences, etc.

  2. I am absolutely someone who is bothered by mess/clutter. I’ve tried to moderate that to some extent, since I learned that a full day of work plus a full evening of cleaning and chores does not make me a happy person! However, I think I’m just really affected by “visual clutter” (which could be actual clutter or a messy drawer or a dirty bathroom). I’m trying to find ways to honor my need for tidyness while not sacrificing my other needs (like the ability to relax before bed!). So, I’m working to make simpler meals and streamline the cleaning, while at the same time teaching myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, either. I’m not at a point in my financial life where I can outsource everything (say, by having a cleaning lady), but I can make it easier on myself.

    1. @Pamela – definitely if you are a person bothered by visual clutter, then owning less stuff is smart, and making simpler meals so there are fewer dishes that then have to be cleaned immediately. Even with a cleaning service though, that doesn’t solve the clutter problem. They wouldn’t usually know where to store the piles.

  3. M Meyer is right and people are hard on her only b/c she is a woman. They are even harder on her b/c she is an attractive woman. I don’t think she said nobody ever every can have anything I think she said most of the folks who have it at yahoo haven’t EARNED it. People also were criticizing her for having a nursery next to her office. She has breasts and a baby and she breastfeeds and runs a company. She is the BOSS, and she has kind of earned that right to have her baby there. Also she is so driven and has proven that she is going to work the hours and make the sacrifices to be in the office so I found that criticism of her, “marissa has the baby there why can’t I” to be grossly unfair. She has the baby there so she can work her axx off and most people are not able to be managed from home b/c they aren’t as driven as someone like MM needed to be .. she made a hard decision that will benefit the company and she was crucified for it b/c any women who stand up and do anything are pretty much attacked in america for that… I think what would be beneficial would be to see her time log and to see who she does it. I do think someone like her has a responsibility to mentor other women so maybe she could use her office to have nursing circle meetings and to lift up fellow female yahoo employees and men who support breastfeeding to like come and feed their babies or she could push for a nursery on site… that would be powerful and not hypocritical ..but telling people to get their axxes to work is kind of her job. thanks for the post.

    1. @Cara- this is an interesting question: which is better for parents of young kids? Generous work-from-home policies or on-site daycare? I realize they don’t have to be either/or, but if companies were thinking about it, which would be a better perk? I assume working from home, since it’s more about flexibility, doesn’t involve commuting with a kid, and doesn’t have to be kid-related to use it. But if a company wanted people in the office, then on-site daycare has a lot going for it, too.

      1. Depends on the commute:
        long commute- onsite childcare better (assuming it’s priced comparably to offsite childcare)

        short commute- (<20 min) work from home better, assuming childcare is also available nearby

        We're a huge country and rather than set policies, we need to offer freedom and think about different circumstances. Law, business and marketing have "levels of progression" where your salary and responsibility (ideally) increase with age/experience.

        Health care and education have a flatter career progression. Salaries are relatively flat (for a given credential) in healthcare and seniority based in education. An acquaintance who is a pharmacist was a SAHM for a few years, then her husband was laid off and his field has been decimated. She went back to work at the standard pharmacist wage- her career was unaffected by her years at home, because it's license-based.

      2. I don’t really see the appeal of work at home with kid.. you still need childcare … I do believe in letting an employee work from home but that they have to earn it. MM would have been criticized if she didn’t criticize this everyone at home in their pajamas thing. But true that as a working woman who is in a position of leadership I do hope — however naive that might be — that if it is harder to manage people from home — definitely on site childcare etc. — also to get the best people after she gets rid of this policy it would be fun to bring it back but tie it to top performance… I do think the criticism of her reflects a larger sense of entitlement in the culture and lack of work ethic…the idea that in this economy you would expect to be given the priv. to work from home probably does reflect a problem in the yahoo culture etc. … the issue of having to drive to work isn’t to me as important as say the flexibility to leave when needed and/or to make up projects at night or weekends etc. I don’t think working from home = flexibility etc.

      3. The problem is that on-site daycare is usually only a possibility for huge companies, and then there’s never space for everyone who wants it.

        I’d much rather have WFH policies where it’s accepted that it’s ok, rather than a special accomodation. IE everyone picks a day and you just have to OK it with your team and manager. The startup I worked for had that and it was pretty cool.

  4. Hmm, as for a BBB idea, how about reconciling our religious/spiritual beliefs with our work?
    (This is somewhat selfish, as I would personally like it if you explored this topic 🙂 ) So often our jobs force us to be a cog in a machine, and our jobs actually require us to care less about people than processes. I have been thinking about this more since watching the first season of Game of Thrones. ****Spoiler alert:

    Ned tries his best to be an honourable man and pays the ultimate price. Very rarely in our own lives are we required to pay the ultimate price if we “do the right thing” at work, but I know in my own work I am often made to compromise between what is the right thing to do for the people involved and what my managers think is the right thing to do for the organisation. I find this very difficult based upon my spiritual/religious beliefs. What do others think?

    1. I love that topic! I was thinking about something along the lines of how to make personal life choices about work, and the number of ways to approach it.

      You have to think about this when you marry, because if you want to be a consultant who travels 270 nights/yr (like my husband’s uncle and cousin), you should probably not marry someone who wants to be an on-call medical specialist, unless you’ll have a 7-24 nanny.

  5. Everyone assumes “productivity” is the goal for Yahoo, but it seems to me that Mayer’s primary goal is probably closer to “innovation,” not productivity per se. Her anti-telework policy is actually a more extreme “ditto” of a Google company policy that discourages telework.

    My hope is this anti-telework trend remains domain-specific to certain tech companies, and it will be a damn shame if it catches on elsewhere. Research shows that telework is often worse for innovation, but better for productivity at fixed jobs. If Yahoo really wants innovation, then arguably it should prohibit telework, at least for the employees it wants to be innovative. But the vast majority of other organizations will continue to benefit from telework.

    Compare Yahoo circa 2000 to the Yahoo of today – it is a spectacular case of how the mighty have fallen. So their leadership there could either keep the status quo (and as the saying goes ‘the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again but each time expecting a different result’) or make some changes, such as no more telework. The management consultants recommended this change, Yahoo’s competition is doing a watered-down version of it – so yes, I can see the argument for why this policy is a sound strategy for a sinking ship.

    1. What research are you referring to when you say, “Research shows that telework is often worse for innovation, but better for productivity at fixed jobs.”

      Have you read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking? I’d be willing to guess that Susan Cain would not agree that contact (let alone spontaneous contact) with your coworkers is necessary for innovation.

      1. Telework is bad for innovation – see here:

        “Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm.

        “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”

  6. Mayer made the decision by checking the data showing how much teleworkers were actually logging in to Yahoo’s network – case closed:

    “Likewise, we’re hearing from people close to Yahoo executives and employees that she made the right decision banning work from home.

    “The employees at Yahoo are thrilled,” says one source close to the company.
    “There isn’t massive uprising. The truth is, they’ve all been pissed off that people haven’t been working.”

  7. I love that you linked to Mary Catherine Starr’s blog re: lessons learned from tracking. I would love to see more examples of this.

    I just downloaded the worksheet and am going to try to track this week. I know it will be scary!

    1. @Arden – I am sitting on a vast trove of time makeovers at the moment. Look for them to start soon!

  8. you should do a book of famous people’s time logs… just the log with the gory details… would be helpful and also fun to peer into ! IF MM from yahoo would let you do her time log I’m sure a lot of folks would read it… I do like the comments about innovation versus productivity and think that in our culture of internet and get things done fast we are loosing the pace that is necessary for real idea exchange… folks are afraid of each other and guarding their bottom lines and so it is hard to just have a conversation with someone that would advance an industry etc. I do agree that to push or have an innovative disruption you need a lot of trust among smart folks who are physically willing to be in a room together — without the pressure of getting fired or corporate politics and you don’t currently have this in most of business culture .. is also challenging for small business owners… etc. b/c we often work in our own silos and are focused on revenue and staying on the revenue line which isn’t always best for innovation

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