Yahoo and Best Buy’s end to working from home is a smoke screen

I am a full-time remote employee, corporate-speak for someone who doesn’t ever work from a “real” office. I’ve been doing this for five years now and though I’m grateful for the flexibility that means I don’t have to move my family, I would prefer the option to work from an office sometimes.

That desire to have options is what pisses me off about the publicity around Yahoo and Best Buy formally ending their work from home options. It’s a smoke screen! I have yet to hear about a really successful company making this change, only those struggling with turnarounds. And to think that getting employees in the office to “communicate and collaborate” is a solution for strategic failures is lazy and weak. It’s what people who don’t have a strong enough strategy and message do – blame the receivers rather than themselves.

I am effective at my job despite (or perhaps because of) working remotely. I would be no more effective if I was in the office everyday, forced to engage with the petty dramas that happen in offices all over the world on a daily basis. I do not struggle to stay in the loop or connected to my employees or colleagues. I have done laundry during long meetings, sure, but the alternatives (IM chatting with colleagues, digging through my email, or surfing the ‘net) aren’t much more productive.

I do miss the opportunity for face to face interaction. Some things are just easier in person. In an ideal world, I’d work from the office some days and from home other days. Many of my staff have this option and report it ideal.

The focus on being in the office all the time disrespects the impact our 24-hour global work cycles have on our home lives and neglects to consider the productivity benefits of having options. My son is sick today, home with a fever and mostly sleeping. I just finished responding to emails and kicking off a few projects, will spend a couple of hours with him before his lunch and nap, then will go back to work for a few hours, attending conference calls and moving a few critical projects along.

Force me to be in the office to work and today becomes a wasted day, work-wise. “Allow” me to work remotely with a good enough reason and suddenly I have to explain how sick my son is and why he’s home with me and not my husband and ohmygawdGetOutofMyPersonalLife. And yes, I’m about to make this a woman thing: when my son is sick, I want to be the one cuddling him and trying to make him feel a little bit better, so although my husband could do some of these sick days, I tend to do most of them. I think many women feel the same way.

Our openness about location-agnosticism at work means I can have the best of all options on a day like today and not feel like I’m negatively impacting my career by spending a day also being a great mom. My projects don’t suffer, my team has access to me, and my kid gets a mama who makes him a special lunch and watches iPad movies with him until he falls asleep.

How is this bad? How am I a better, more productive worker if I’m at work and distracted and feeling guilty, or home and reading a book during my son’s nap time?

I’m not saying office work days aren’t productive. I travel across the country a few times a year just to spend a few days with people in the same room.

I’m saying that limiting people’s options — when they’re so pervasive in the industry — disrespects their maturity, desire to do a good job for everyone and ability to balance competing roles and priorities. I do well as a manager only because I prefer to lead than manage. I tell my team I expect them to be able to juggle their work and home lives and am supportive of efforts to do so; this keeps me from having to know and micromanage every detail of the jobs they do but more importantly, treats them like the highly-paid experts they are.

The closest I’ve ever come to quitting in protest was when I worked for a manager who noted on my yearly review that I was always an hour late in submitting my weekly status report. Seriously? I did a great job at my job, but I left because what seemed to matter was whether I could complete administrivia on his schedule. For that, they lost a dedicated employee.

It’s hard to enough to work for a company that’s not winning. The great people leave, the good people stay for various reasons (mostly personal, like the location or their colleagues or the flexibility they’ve earned with experience), and the bad people don’t have any other options. Giving good people one more reason to leave by disrespecting their ability to live their lives well (personally and professionally) just accelerates the downward spiral.

Pick a few days when everyone is expected to be in the office, ensure your management team uses those days well, and give your folks the flexibility to actually get things done a couple of days a week in whatever way makes sense for them and perhaps they will come up with brilliant ideas to cover your inability to find a successful business model.

Make them leave their sick kids to go into the office just to experience petty gossip in person and try to get work done with constant interruptions? Suddenly polishing their resumes will get a bump in priority on their to-do lists.

 

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