By: Revanche

Friday Rant: Telecommuting and business decisions

March 1, 2013

There’s been a lot of hullaballoo over the Marissa Mayer decision to stop telecommuting as a standard rule. I thought I was done with talking about it and hearing about it but there was something that still got under my skin.

My reaction? That sucks from a work-life perspective but what’s the business decision behind it?

We don’t know. We aren’t privy to how productive their workers are, we aren’t privy to the balance sheet, we can’t see what she’s aiming to do.

Mayer’s decision is based on what she thinks is right for the business.

Right or wrong, she is the CEO. Her job is to make those decisions.

Personally, as an uninformed outsider, I would extrapolate that the Yahoo employees are actually not as productive as they could be. Yahoo’s been failing as a business for years, and that’s indicative of a failure on several levels: their business model doesn’t work, the employees aren’t excelling, the managers are not doing their jobs to ensure productivity in the office or from telecommuters.


Look at how far behind Yahoo’s lagged in maintenance on their existing products, on developing innovative products, on not eating their putative competition’s dust. Can anyone compare Yahoo and Google without laughing?

What does Yahoo excel at? As their consumer, I’d say nothing.

I still (shockingly) use them because I can’t be arsed to transition everything but they don’t excel at search, at mail, or at news.  What’s left?  They needed a big kick in the pants, or five, because they’re mediocre, or subpar. That’s not a business I’d invest in.

It’s not inconceivable that this decision makes the most sense FOR YAHOO RIGHT NOW, taking into consideration where they are and the abuses of the system as noted by this Business Insider article.

Bottom Line: If it were working for them, why the hell would she change the policy? If it isn’t working for them, then it’s her responsibility to change it. She was hired to turn a company around. She’d better be doing what it takes.

I can’t stand the claims that she’s a disappointment to feminists…

….that she was the Great Freaking Women’s Hope and she owes the employees a nursery because she gets a private one, or that she’s setting the company back to the stone ages.

She leads a business that employs people. It can employ people only so long as the business is successful, and of course it needs people in order to be successful. Circle of life.

Within that circle, employers provide jobs that pay a wage.  “Life essential” benefits like health care, dental, and time off would be nice, even expected from this type of company. Perks like gyms, free food, free transit, subsidized or conveniently located childcare, flexible schedules, etc., are even nicer. They are, however, the mark of a company that has both the money and the willingness to provide them. A competitive company will. One that is struggling to survive will pick and choose. (BI notes, btw, she is willing to provide some of those other perks.)

At the end of the day, it’s a job, not a belief system. They have the right and responsibility to run their business best they can, all employees have the right and responsibility to make the best decision for their lives.

A, As a feminist, I’m tired of the focus on her decision as a woman and as a businesswoman, I’m tired of the insistence that all telecommuters are productive because they’ve been doing it so long.

It shouldn’t matter if she’s a man, woman, teal, or an elephant. It’s not her responsibility to prop up a policy that doesn’t work so that employees are happy. It’s her responsibility to take the long-view, make the business work, make it productive and profitable otherwise there won’t be a company.

B, It’s called WORK from home. It’s being available for conference calls, contributing to solutions, brainstorming creatively, creating new solutions, completing projects.

It’s not: work while with your kids, work and play with the dog, or work when someone’s paying attention and then run errands, or work while helping kids with their homework. Believe me, those conference calls where someone’s helping with homework or soothe a crier can suck.

Having childcare, flexible schedules and telecommuting are all different things. Great or very necessary, depending on your life, but they cannot be conflated.

Being able to set your work aside for two hours in the day to pick up the kids, run errands or take multiple breaks throughout the day w/o affecting your work, productivity or reputation: flexible scheduling.
Being able to take your child to the doctor, play with them, help them with their homework, feed them: childcare.
Being able to work with your laptop on your sofa or in bed or at the dining room table instead of in the office: working from home.

These are all good things. They are, however, NOT the same thing. Mayer’s nursery (childcare) = your ability to work from home? False equivalence. She has childcare while she’s at work but that’s not the same as being home to take care of your kids while you’re working.

Working from home also doesn’t confer ability to do everything you wanted to do at home AND work, nor the ability to split yourself in two. If PiC has the day off when I don’t, I still can’t talk or hang out: I’m working. Yes, it saves you a commute, but the trade off is the ease of face to face conversations that resolve issues in two minutes.

Related: the assumptions people make about working from home drives me (and Andrea) insane.
No, I don’t have time to sit and chat on the phone for an hour.
No, I can’t just come and have a 2 hour lunch.
NO, I can’t make your travel arrangements because I’m good at it so I must enjoy doing that instead of my work during my work day. I have work to do! It’s like I’m in an office.

I worked from someone’s home with his children and guess what happened? I had a kid crawl in my lap every twenty minutes, every single time that child could sneak past her caretaker (surprisingly frequently) insisting on having me “Look! Watch! Come!”, and I couldn’t kick her out. She wouldn’t STAY out anyway.  Bet your tuchus I wasn’t answering emails.

This is not uncommon. I’ve worked with many parents trying to work while they were caretaking and they were always distracted; all the colleague-parents who worked from home routinely arranged childcare during the day because they couldn’t do both at the same time.

When Doggle was sick, I spent a week looking after him from home. when I was trying to juggle him and work, my productivity was at 25%. When they were divided, it was 100% him for 6 hours and 100% work for 3 hours.

This isn’t to say laziness isn’t present in the office – of course it is. I’ve had coworkers who didn’t work more than 2 hours a day in the office and 0 outside of it. It took a manager really willing to do her job to put an end to that.

Bottom line: Working from home is great but not when you’re distracted. You are productive when you’re working, not when you’re taking care of your personal life, no matter where you are. A business can’t stay in business if they aren’t effectively managing problems.

C, What corporate CEO isn’t privileged? Heck, non-corporate, non-profit CEOs can be too. She chose to exercise her privilege on a nursery. CEOs also have luxury travel options, massive salaries, they have assistants, secretaries and a dozen other services at their beck and call. The fact that she has a nursery may feel like a slap but why aren’t people bitching about those luxuries that other CEOs have? Is the childcare arrangement of any other CEO discussed and held up as a Call to Action? Working dad CEOs aren’t being called out to provide X because they have Y.

Her responsibility at Yahoo is to run Yahoo as well as she can. Her calls may be good, they may be bad, but the focus on motherhood, working womanhood, to fuel the mommy wars, basically, zeroing in on the fact that she’s a woman is GROSS. To quote Allison.

As a feminist, who believes in equal opportunities, not gender-based special treatment, I’m disgusted with that angle.

:: Alison at Ask A Manager succinctly sums it up.

9 Responses to “Friday Rant: Telecommuting and business decisions”

  1. Alison Green says:

    “What corporate CEO isn’t privileged? Heck, non-corporate, non-profit CEOs can be too. She chose to exercise her privilege on a nursery. CEOs also have luxury travel options, massive salaries, they have assistants, secretaries and a dozen other services at their beck and call.”

    I love this point. It’s bizarre and ironic that they people who are accusing Mayer of somehow betraying other woman and obligations to some sisterhood are in fact the ones betraying women, via their misplaced focus on her ovaries.

    • Revanche says:

      There’s also a lot of “how DARE you not be a feminist?” going on. I don’t claim to like the fact that she disavows feminism though I do see the aspects that she refers to and know there are a lot of people who wouldn’t want to be associated with the “militant” brand. It’s a shame that she doesn’t cut through to the fact that there are other aspects of feminism that do work well, which isn’t to say that the militant type doesn’t work but it certainly is alienating.
      Anyway, all of this? Irrelevant to the business decision.

  2. I don’t think people would raise such a big stink if the business decision come from an older man. As a young accomplished woman, I think people harbor a lot of jealous and resentment.

    • Revanche says:

      It certainly looks that way when the focus is on the “woman” part. And since I don’t see ANY other male CEO called out for the same kind of thing.

  3. eemusings says:

    “I’m tired of the focus on her decision as a woman and as a businesswoman”

    THIS. I get that people are taking it really personally, but that’s just wrong.

  4. sp says:

    Definately agree. I also hate how everything powerful women do is viewed as a symbol, for or against, some feminist beleif system.

    Are you working from home a lot? I think i missed that.

    Also, as alison points out, telecommuting is still allowed on occasion – just not as a permanet work schedule option!

  5. […] think we have some, we just need to go through our gchat records.  Also I liked that gai shan life thing and the thing she linked […]

  6. Ms. S says:

    Great one! I hate when people assume that because I work from home means I am available to do non-work related things at will. No I can’t meet you at a coffee shop to chat and catch up for hours. I’m working! You’re off, I’m not. Nor can I run your errands, I’m working!

    But yeah, it’s quite sickening the gap between the expectations of man and women in power, or otherwise for that matter.

  7. […] is a bit of a follow-on thought from the Marissa Mayer post, and partly inspired by a comment I absolutely agreed with from Cloud’s post, bold emphasis […]

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