Since last week, I’ve been mulling over what I want to say about the recent memo coming out of Yahoo! requiring all workers report to campus, eliminating their work from home stance.
I admittedly do not have an MBA nor do I particularly have a mind for “management.” I am a communicator. I am an observer. I am a seeker. I am not a numbers person. I am not a manager, nor do I ever truly care to be one. I like working with others on a team and having a role to fulfill and a skill set to offer. I like putting my head down and working alone to put that skill set to work and create change. I like learning from others’ strengths and allowing them to do what they do best.
I do not work at Yahoo! or a company like it. I do not claim to understand their culture, their specific needs for corporate change or how to fix their bottom line. I do not know if people are taking advantage, in the most negative sense of the term, of the telecommuting option or if this is simply a nice tactic to trim the personnel fat without having to make hard layoff decisions.
I do, however, work in a flexible environment.
As I’ve said before, I work part time and a lot at home. The company I work for is relatively small and a start-up. A lot of folks have young families. Travel and late nights and weekend events are par for the course for many and the mentality is very much see something that needs to be done? Do it.
When I started this gig, the understanding was that I would primarily work from home. It soon became apparent, as folks were getting used to who I was and what I could offer, that I show my face every so often in order to get to know everyone and experience how the business worked. I currently go to the office on days when both kids are in school – so three mornings a week. If I need to attend a meeting outside of those hours, I have often brought a little assistant with me to the office.
This face time allows me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, track down answers to unreturned emails and, often, have a quiet, kid-free zone to work. The ability to work from home, however, gives me the opportunity to spend time with my kids, be there when my six year old gets off the school bus and volunteer at my children’s schools. Many of my tasks are writing or research related and can be completed outside normal business hours. My social media tasks have no business hours and I am able to check on them whenever and wherever.
Today’s constant email, text and social contact are making the traditional 9 to 5 schedule a thing of the past. People have access to work wherever they are. I think it’s unrealistic to not offer flexible work environments. I, for one, am able to participate in the economy, find fulfilling work and contribute to a company I believe in because of it. If the job required a 9 to 5 in the office schedule, frankly, I’m not sure I’d be doing it.
That being said, there must be parameters, boundaries, expectations. Flexible work environments are a lot like raising children. You want to give kids the freedom to explore, learn and take risks. At the same time, they need boundaries to still feel safe and confident. My kids always behave better when they know what is expected of them. Freedom breeds creativity and confidence in them, but inattention leads to acting out and, shall we say, mischief.
So provide freedom, but be attentive. Insist workers spend a certain number of hours a week in the office, require attendance at monthly staff/team meetings, offer events/seminars/learning opportunities that get people together. Sure, it might be harder work for management to enact boundaries and monitor the work-from-homers, but isn’t that their job? To manage? Why risk alienating talented workers who may be more productive without the extra-long commute or the complicated child care arrangements or, frankly. without the distractions of a cubicle environment?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can say that truly flexible work environments are good for workers. They are good for families. They are good for employers. I hope that, at the very least, this move by Yahoo! will help keep the conversation about flex schedules going.
My fear, though, is that it will give employers the permission to remain inflexible.