The “Death” of Flex-Time & How You CAN Still Work at Home

So far with a two-week maternity leave under her belt and now this, it’s safe to say Yahoo CEO  Marissa Mayer isn’t looking to win any awards. But in fairness to her, that’s not what she was hired to do.

Did she make the right call? Only time will tell  but what’s clear is that Mayer is trying to change the culture at Yahoo and change it quick. As an executive, I get what she’s trying to do. The company (and let’s not forget that Yahoo is public)  is in dire straights and Mayer knows her grace period as a new CEO is only going to last so long before her board and shareholders start demanding results.

If you don’t have the right talent in place, corporate strategy will only take you so far.

So it may be that Mayer and her management team have decided that the fastest way to figure out if they have the right people on the bus is to have all of their employees come in from the cold and plug back into the office.  They need to quickly sort out the “A” players from the “B” and “C” players so that those employees who don’t fit the model of the new Yahoo will simply unplug their laptops and leave. It’s clear she’s also trying to send a shockwave signal  through the organization to let employees know the game has changed.

I have no doubt Yahoo is going to lose some high performers during this shake up, but Mayer is clearly ready to take this risk in order to right a sinking ship. Work/life balance and non-existent maternity leaves be damned, she’s in it to win it and wants everyone on her program or leave.

Is this going to be a trend at other companies?

I don’t think so.

Yahoo is swimming against the tide when it comes to working from home.

According to the US Census, almost 13.4 million people work from home up 41% in the last decade. More and companies (including the one I work for) advertise it as a benefit or use it to recruit and retain top-talent.

It’s also worth noting that Americans have some of the highest productivity in the world. We work more hours and take far less vacation than our European counterparts.

For better or worse, American workplace culture has evolved to a point where the lines between work and home have blurred.

We work all the time.

And because work encroaches upon our personal lives so much, and we are so tethered to our mobile technology, employers are allowing workers to work from home because they know it is nearly impossible to turn work off completely.

When all is said and done, the Yahoos of the world will be the exception rather than the rule. So regardless of the handwringing in the media right now, you CAN work from home if you have the kind of job and work in a corporate culture that embraces (or at least tolerates) the practice.

Love it or hate it, flex-time is here to stay.

But here’s the kicker, it doesn’t work at all companies. One of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, wrote a provocative post last week about Mayer’s decision. Ever the contrarian, here’s part of what she says:

The reason flexible jobs are hard to find is that most companies demand that you show up and put in face time at the office. We have been clamoring for ages that women want flexible work, but companies don’t want to give flexible work. (In fact, women are so fed up with the lack of flexible work that they are starting businesses at a higher rate than ever and Forbes called entrepreneurship the new women’s movement.)

She goes on to write:

If you want to have a slower career, you deserve to be able to make that choice. But you shouldn’t get to work with people who are giving up everything for their job. It’s not fair. Of course it’s fine for you to leave work to eat dinner with your kids and put them to bed. Actually, I think it’s really nice. But it’s not fair to go home to your kids at 5 pm and start working again at 9 pm when your co-worker has been at the office those five hours. Your co-worker deserves more than that.

It’s worth reading the entire post to understand she’s not against flex-time per se but she’s pushing a POV that women need to get clear about their choices; that it’s very hard to have a high-powered career and work/life balance, which is essentially the problem flex-time seeks to solve.

I think there is a truth to what Penelope Trunk writes. Certain businesses like tech start-ups and most professional services companies require employees to work incredibly long hours. These firms incentivize employees to work long hours by providing services like dry-cleaning pick-up, full-service gyms and gourmet cafeterias. You never have to go home and that’s exactly how they want it.

But what if you work for a company who supports flex-time and you want to negotiate an agreement?

One essential truth to understand about  flex-time is that it’s a privilege and not a right. If you are serious about wanting to work from home you’ve got to make your case. So let’s say you do want to work from home how do you go about it?

  • Be a high performer. Your employer will be much more supportive if you have a strong-track record and solid reviews under your belt. Most employers are keen to retain their top talent rather than lose them to a competitor.
  • Make your case. Demonstrate in writing how the arrangement will benefit your employer as well as you. Yes, it’s cliché but making it a win-win for you and your employer is a must. Illustrate how much more productive you will be and provide assurances that you will be as available as if you were working in the office.
  • Offer to do a trial period. If your employer is on the fence, offer to do a three-month trial period after which time you’ll mutually evaluate whether the arrangement should continue.
  • Be flexible. There will be some days that you are needed in the office so be ready to give up your day (or days) at home to finish up critical projects, attend meetings or resolve issues that require face to face interaction. Flexibility demonstrates you have the judgment and maturity to know when your presence is needed.

Once you nab your work at home arrangement you’ll need a few things to be a successful telecommuter:

  • Dedicated office space. You need to have a space that is conducive to working and  free from distractions. This is also essential for being able to have Skype and conference calls. I love my home office which has everything I need to be productive including a comfy office chair for long stretches of writing, and conference calls, a sofa for reading documents and a view of my garden for inspiration.
  • The right  technology. A strong WiFi signal as well as access to a phone line is a must. I’ve noticed more and more corporate IT departments have specialists who help employees set up their at-home technology, including secure VPN connections to access the company network.  This is great because it means I don’t have carry home piles of paperwork since I can access my desktop virtually.
  • Child care. If you have kids don’t expect to be able to watch them while you are working. There is nothing worse than trying to have a conference call while a little one is tugging on your shirt to tell you he has to pee pee. Better to line up a sitter or a nanny to watch your kids while you are working. When I work from home, D2’s nanny keeps him occupied and out of my hair except for the occasional hug and kiss when I take breaks.  Otherwise, everyone knows that I’m focused on work and that I’m not to be disturbed.

So what you do you think about the work from home debate? Tempest in a teapot or a debate worth having? Do you work from home and if so, how often and how did you negotiate your arrangement? Share your thoughts in the comments section. I’m listening.

  • Bianca

    I would like to still work at home even if I’ll have other jobs.

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