Gosh, there’s been a lot of coverage in the new lately about Marissa Mayer’s decision to rein in teleworking at Yahoo, and a lot of ink spilled on that subject, both pro and con. I’d like to weigh in on it myself on the whole “work from home” topic, but from outside the corporate tent. I ran a small company from 1994 to 2004, that varied in size from a low employee count of 3 to a momentary high of 10 in 2000, just before the dot.com phenom turned into the dot.com bust. For that entire period, and for most of the time since 1987 through today, I have worked from home. The entire time my company was in business we never had office space: everybody worked from home, all the time.
Any time you ponder a job offer, it’s worth asking about a prospective employer’s work-at-home policies
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I guess we were lucky because we worked in a completely deadline driven business — namely content creation and delivery. If the work didn’t get done on time, we didn’t get paid. If we couldn’t deliver the work at the stipulated price, we lost money. Needless to say, we mostly did the work on time, and we mostly made money. When we failed to do either, it was by mistake or mischance, and we learned from our mistakes and also learned how to minimize the chance that untoward circumstances could cut too deeply into our bottom line.
In the thirty-plus years I’ve been working in and around IT I’ve worked for companies that insisted that people report to an office to work with others where they could see and be seen; I’ve also (and primarily) worked for companies that didn’t require people to come in except for occasional meetings and annual parties and suchlike. By and large, I’ve enjoyed working for those companies, including mine, that conceded its employees were fairly adult, and could be relied on to get their work done without constant supervision. I also learned to ask for help when I needed it, and to tell my managers when I got into trouble (earlier on in that period) or when I could see trouble heading in my direction (later on, as I not only learned to recognize the warning signs, but also found out what could happen if I waited too long to yell for help). But I also enjoyed working at some of the desk jobs that I held, particularly when the employer did what they could to create a positive, supportive, and above all, interesting work environment.
Given that my work is the kind I can do anyplace I have a computer and a working Internet connection, my options are probably quite a bit more open than most people’s. But I have to believe that working at home can be a huge productivity win for those organizations smart enough to make it easy and fun for employees to do it anywhere from occasionally to all of the time. I can understand why Marissa Mayer might have found it necessary to bring all hands together to help keep a sinking ship above the waves, but I don’t think that a “no working from home” policy makes sense these days, not only because people can be more productive when they don’t have to commute or uproot themselves twice a day to keep life and work going, but also because working at home keeps cars off the road, energy consumption down, and generally makes for happier workers.
I wouldn’t be at all inclined to go to work for a company with a “no working from home” posture nowadays, and I have to guess that many readers will feel the same way. In fact, I urge you to explore your “work at home” and “work away from the office” options any time you consider a new employer. It could help steer you in to a calmer, happier, and more productive work situation.