Thursday, February 28, 2013
Next Generation Workers...The Telecommuting MYTHs
The news is in a complete buzz about the recent decision to eliminate telecommuting by none other than Yahoo. There is some clear irony about the idea of a technology company mandating a physical presence in order to assess work performance and re-orient their working world. The implications for the decision will largely resonate with two audiences of particular importance to me, working mothers and those who currently have some level of telecommuting arrangement. I hope that Yahoo's decision doesn't cascade into the minds and strategies of those businesses that understand working from home, and those that actually get it right.
In my career I have spent large amounts of time as a consultant and strategists, often having a mobile office that went from place to place. When I first became a mother, I had no idea that I would later decide that I did not want to work 70 hour work weeks on average, a standard that I had created. I am so thankful that I worked for a Board of Directors who were both insightful and good business people. Flexibility is key for many professionals who give above and beyond what any one person should be asked to do within one job assignment. I know that I have friends and peers who currently balance what should be the equivalent of no fewer than 3 jobs. Flexibility allows the priorities of life to someone blend into a more effective balance, and it allows for the use of time and resources in more innovative ways than being tied to a desk. There is no question what side of this debate I support.
How many people are tied to their smart phones, making the dumb decisions to answer every call and every email, even when sent at inappropriate times? How many of us recognize that we have conditioned people within our professional circle to expect replies and follow-up instantaneously, when we have different priorities or work that should be done away from email? How much of this current debate reflects a lack of clarity about job performance, metrics and evaluation standards - and not some ill conceived notion of a colleague sitting at home in their bathrobe taking calls, while drinking lattes and watching TV? For those who seriously understand and have experienced working from home, you know that reality is much different.
Working from home, in many ways mirrors working for yourself. You now have the freedom to start your day at the earliest possible hour and end your day at the latest possible hour, in an attempt to best serve your employer and to demonstrate you have earned the flexibility given. That also means you are highly self-reflective, evaluating your value, contributions and achievements on a regular and consistent basis. While I can only imagine that somewhere someone is taking advantage of the system, there are countless others who prove the importance of flexibility, trust and performance in the marketplace.
With that said, office time can be overrated. While I am particularly blessed with a tremendous set of colleagues to work with, someone should also study the time wasted within the course of the standard work day. The number of activities and initiatives to build staff connectivity, might be better spent allowing people to connect with their own families. A good working relationship doesn't mean that you spend every holiday in celebration, celebrate every event with food or foster team-building by mandatory time together. Team-building can be an important aspect of any work environment, and it starts with a respect for each persons contributions, skills and talents. We could eliminate a fair amount of activities if we simply held performance in very high regard. The value of time is lost in our society.
Job-Sharing, Telecommunity, Virtual Offices and a regard for online operations matters in today's society. Being an effective team player doesn't mean you see my face each day, it should mean that you see my value. At least that is what I hope. I am reminded on this day to not only be thankful for good leadership, but to also be persistent in what true communication and dialogue is all about. If we put down our phones, walked away from email, stopped a hyper sense of organization based on technology, maybe we could foster a real conversation - about productivity, work/life balance, and achievement. Those things matter regardless of where you are working from. Maybe it is a bigger question, who are we working unto....man, or something, or someone, greater!
What are your thoughts? Share your comments - as long as you are not wasting work time doing so.