With her decision to rescind work-from-home benefits, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer may have created more news and publicity for her new employer than anything she’s done so far since taking the helm at Yahoo. It’s been great at generating buzz for Yahoo. And an excellent catalyst for conversation throughout the web and blogs and I’m sure at a few water coolers in the workplace (if anyone still hangs around the office water cooler).
Whether to allow or encourage people to work from home has also created quite a buzz in large and small companies all over the country including ours.
Work from home—Does it work for every business?
We’re no exception at our company. Allowing folks to work from home is an issue we constantly struggle with in our ad agency business. We are in the professional services business. In short, clients expect and pay us to be there (or “here” as the case may be) for them when they need our support and help responding to late-breaking needs and opportunities. When a client calls for something that requires us to connect with a co-worker, or put our hands on a hard copy file, or pull a quick team meeting together to huddle on a conference call—it’s tough to do that when you’re at home working from your kitchen table or home office.
When you work from home, do collaboration and communications happen?
There’s a great need for collaboration in our field. With so much work done in small group brainstorm sessions or working face to face with a partner or colleague. Having one part of a team working from home or remotely at some other location—and another in the shop doesn’t always make for the most effective use of time, client money, or most important of all, the best thinking.
Because we’re in the creative communications business, much of our work is done by teams of people or a pair of collaborators—writer & art director, account executive & media planner, producer & designer. You get the idea. Yes, we have all sorts of ways to close the distance—WebEx and Go-to-meeting, Skype, and old-fashioned conference calls—but still there’s a special human quality about sitting face-to-face and thinking about something in person that’s lost in the long distance remote communications relationship.
I couldn’t imagine a great marriage, or any kind of important and valuable relationship that relied on human interaction, collaboration, and communications that isn’t made stronger, more connected and powerful by relating to people in the flesh versus over the ethernet. Can you imagine playing a basketball game with two of your five players working from home? Calling in assists? Skype-ing you to take the 3-pointer?
Sure, it can substitute for the real thing once in a while to get through an unusual circumstance. But as a way to routinely do business—I think people working with people in person works best.
Work from home: still a fact of business life today.
That said, we work hard to be flexible. We have a young, family-focused work staff. Almost everyone has kids and family commitments that require times for them to be occasionally working from home instead of on site. And the fact of the matter is most of our staff work at all sorts of odd hours off site and on site. It’s the nature of our business today. People work while traveling on business flights (I’m writing this blog at 25,000 feet), holed up in hotels and conferences, and sometimes during interminably dull conference calls.
After work and after the kids have been put down for the night and homework’s done—I see my phone light up with messages, emails and content about business that’s happening at home long outside the classic 9–5 parameters.
So what’s the right thing to do—work from home or not?
We try to take a commonsense approach that combines fairness to everyone and recognizes the realities of our professional lives today.
Encourage work at work.
That’s really the best place for our creative collaboration to happen and we try to foster it with an environment that’s conducive to getting work done here in the office where the tools, resources and talents are clustered together to make great work happen. Together, not siloed in our kitchens or staring at the glow of our laptops miles away from each other. And while many of us often work at off hours and the nature of our business can be all around the clock—we want people to do the bulk of their best work at work during working hours. Save home for home life and vacation time. We want people to use all the ETO time they have, take that flex day and use that R&R time to say fresh and be rejuvenated.
Think about fairness.
For every job in our business that could be done anywhere, there’s an equal amount that can only be done in the office. It’s tough to explain to someone whose job tethers them to a computer and the physical confines of the workplace—why someone else can work at home on their job. If someone has to work at home—for good reason—we ask that they get the OK from their supervisor.
Give people flexibility.
Working from home should be the exception, not the rule. Our people are professional adults and we respect their ability to know when working from home for a few hours to focus like a laser on something without the distraction of the office, or to prepare for a meeting that starts too late to commute to work and then turn around. We also have a generous ETO plan so people can find the time to take care of life stuff like dental appointments, kid events, etc., so when they are working from home, we trust that they are working from home. Not just at home.
What’s your policy or approach to working from home?
Would love to hear any ideas on the best way to accommodate working from home and the business requirements of in-person collaboration. Send me an email—I’ll pick it up at work or at home, or in the car, or right now before I land in LAX.