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Your boss fine with you working at home? Marissa Mayer isn’t.

Working from home

All of you thinking the world is moving towards creative freedom, think again.

February 24, 2013 12:15 by

On the other side of the world, Marissa Mayer sends out an internal memo banning all Yahoo! employees from working at home. On this side, we discuss whether or not that decision was a smart one. The HR memo was leaked out by angry employees, so that’s our first indication that they weren’t happy with it.

The question of whether working from homes makes us happier and productive corporate puppets is an unanswered one. Sure, we’ve read answers. Millions of them, in fact, but that doesn’t mean we can put the matter to bed. There are arguments – from both employees and employers – that working from home is more productive, relaxing, time-saving and essentially reduces costs all around. On the other hand, Mayer says ‘we need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” Really?

‘Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,’ she said. Well, yes you’re not wrong Marissa but can we really rule out the possibility that inspiration might strike when we’re sat comfortably in our Pyjamas?

Obviously there are certain jobs that cannot be done remotely, and there are certain lines of work that require constant face-to-face interaction but as an extremely candid column by the Huffington Post suggests, this mentality is both ironic and disappointing. It also points out the obvious – but somehow elusive –  fact that 20 years ago, when we relied heavily on things like files, paperwork and our office telephone then you could have gotten away with saying ‘we need to be physically together’. Now we can’t.

Still, as much as we can bash Mayer for enforcing an ideology that many of us don’t want to accept, there are still others that – at least to a certain extent – agree. In November last year, a global survey by Regus stated that while the lack of time spent commuting and comfort that comes from the ability to work at home can help, the reality for Middle Eastern employees is entirely different. Some of the barriers-to-working-from-home mentioned in that report were things like poor internet connectivity, no access to office equipment and distractions. Joanne Bushell, VP for MENA, Regus said that working from home can ‘clearly affect your concentration and productivity’.

Yes, because nobody ever finds their colleagues to be a major pain in the… – but I digress.

Again, we’ve reached a T- intersection, and there’s certainly nothing Kipp can say to conclude this subject. But that’s precisely the point. Some areas are meant to remain gray because having a black-and-white-blanket-rule can hardly ever be a fair decision. To place one rule on all employees is to insinuate that they all have same job description and that physical presence is an absolute necessity to fulfill it.

Mohamed Elzubeir, Managing Director of Mediastow in Dubai says that while he does rely on remote workers for some parts of his business, he has been moving away from that model in favour of in-office staff. “While Remote Workers are financially attractive, they come with a lot of challenges with reliability and communication,” he says. “I don’t know if this lack of work ethics is something specific to the Middle East region, but remote workers are very unreliable.” He does add though, that in some cases, particularly when business costs are high, they can be a very attractive option.

As a leader, it’s your job to – aside from ensuring your business runs smoothly – give your employees the ‘right’ amount of freedom to retain them in the long run. It’s up to you decide the path you take, and the key word here is ‘right’. If you’re running a supermarket, you can hardly rely on remote workers to operate the till.

The point is, should we surprised that the youngest woman CEO to ever lead a Fortune 500 company – and the first to do it while pregnant – should abandon all notions of a free environment to enforce one blanket ban across all borders?

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  1. James on February 24, 2013 4:15 pm

    As a managing editor and writer, I spend most of my working day in meetings or dealing with interruptions from colleagues which is not always condusive to the writing process. There is nothing worse than being distracted in mid-flow, so now, I have pretty much given up trying to do so in the office. I deal with management and organisational things at work, then go home and write into the wee hours and at weekends, because I am more relaxed and less likely to be interrupted. At the end of the day, there is always a tangible product to prove that my work was done, but still I get raised eyebrows if I ask to work from home at crucial periods of the process… taking the occasional day to get stuff done shouldn’t be detrimental to the creative process, it should enhance it, as you return to the office with a sense of achievement that you have completed a large swathe of work and it frees you up to have more of the creative water cooler conversations and informal team meetings.

  2. M. Aldalou on February 24, 2013 4:23 pm

    Thank you James, couldn’t have said it better myself. You’re absolutely right, yeah it seems to be necessary to ‘show your face’ around the office, but the real work gets done on the side.

  3. Dissatisfied Boss on February 25, 2013 1:43 pm

    The issue with work is, it’s work – it’s annoying, it’s complicated, it involves working with folks you don’t agree with, it involves compromise and professionalism. That’s why we get paid to go to work. As an employer I think we’ve taken remote working too far – a company needs to have a united culture and staff – and to create that, people need to be at work (ie – in the office) mostly. Of course it sucks going to work in a company, of course it is challenging to create consensus in a company, of course it is hard work to bring colleagues together in meetings with real results in a company. But as a company, if we are going to succeed, that’s the result we need. If you want to work in peace and quiet without the “distractions” of meetings (ie colleagues, their ideas, or their issues), without the annoyance of “collaboration” (ie learning from other experts), or “accountability” (ie ensuring that there are management systems in place that support a positive work environment for all, not just a precious few) be a casual contractor.

    Workplaces should be flexible, but the support of a workplace involves people turning up mostly at the workplace, and bringing their main game.


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