The internet was abuzz this week after a Yahoo employee leaked an internal staff memo on a directive by CEO Marissa Mayer announcing a major change in policy. From now on, all Yahoo employees will have to work in the office, and can no longer telecommute.
I heard about the change by reading a Twitter thread from working moms who had some choice words for Mayer. Many believed the move was a step backwards and expected more from a young working mother heading up a major internet company.
My first reaction was disappointment and frustration.
A major reason I left my full-time job as a TV news producer was because my bosses would not allow me any flexible work schedule. After more than 11 years of service and only excellent performance reviews, the company refused to try a 4 day work week or any kind of working from home situation.
TV news is an extremely demanding gig. Not only was I working a standard 45-50 hours a week in the office, I was on pager 24/7 and often on the phone or email, making decisions and assignments in breaking news situations. I continued at that pace for 18 months after my 3rd child was born and ran myself ragged, feeling like a slacker both at work and at home.
Then my amazing nanny quit. The new one was terrible and my oldest son– who was almost 8 and had never complained about me working before– started coming into my room every morning begging me not to go to work.
So I quit.
One of the most wrenching decisions I’ve ever made, and I still second guess it all the time. After a year at home with my 3 boys (ages 2, 4, and 7 at the time) I was going stir crazy and feeling like an even bigger slacker. That’s when I started writing and eventually reinvented myself as a writer/editor/blogger.
It’s been a struggle– and I’m lucky because our family doesn’t rely on my salary to live, as so many families do. But we’ve certainly had to make sacrifices.
Now I work as an editor at a news website in Manhattan two days a week, and freelance write and blog the other days. There are many aspects of my freelance life that I love and as much as I gripe about the career I gave up, I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with my kids in the last 5 years for any fancy title or salary.
But if I could have just worked 4-days a week, or worked from home one day a week, or even gone in late two mornings, I probably would still be at that job today. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good job that I loved, working with great people, and building a career at a major media company.
TV news is a tough job for telecommuting, but creating and marketing online content at Yahoo should inherently lend itself to it. Isn’t the beauty of the internet that it connects everyone everywhere? Mayer’s decision sends the opposite message.
From what I’ve read, she ‘s a savvy thinker so I’m sure she listened to arguments from both sides and pored over productivity stats before making a decision she knew would be controversial and attention grabbing.
Critics say she’s a hypocrite because after taking a few weeks of maternity leave, she returned to work with a nursery next to her office, for her 4-month-old son. So she can bring her son to the office, but her employees can’t work from home regularly to be near their kids?
Mayer suggested that speed and quality are sacrificed when people work from home. There are some jobs that can’t be done virtually, and some people who might take advantage of the opportunity. But couldn’t she have tried to work with department heads to determine which situations were working before condemning everyone?
People want the flexibility of telecommuting for all different reasons. It’s not just parents who want to save commuting time to see more of their families, there are also health concerns, extended travel time, and clients who have overseas business that requires off hours.
I don’t doubt Mayer’s business wisdom or her right to do what’s necessary to make her struggling company profitable. I’m just discouraged that this is what she believes is the best way. The high-profile move now makes it ok for other companies to shut down the possibility of telecommuting, spoiling it for the rest of us.
A 2011 study by WorldatWork.com (a nonprofit HR association) found that companies that embraced flexibility had lower turnover and higher employee satisfaction, motivation, and engagement.
But the Yahoo memo said to be the best, “employees had to work side by side.” It will be interesting to see if Yahoo loses some strong people as a result of this decision… and whether the company actually turns around in spite of it.