As a working mother, the edict from Marissa Mayer regarding employees no longer being allowed to work at home made perfect sense to me. And I admire that she had the chutzpah to do it just a few months into her tenure as a working mother.
For working parents, working from home is the worst of everything. It isn’t really working, and it isn’t really being at home. You can defend it or rail against it as much as you like, but here’s the unspoken truth: You are fostering disappointment and frustration from all parties while fooling yourself into believing you’ve arranged for the best of both worlds. You can’t be two places at once. That’s it; that was my epiphany—astoundingly simple, as they all are.
On the days or half days that you are working from home, you’ll get the sense that the office is questioning your commitment. You’ll probably even question your own commitment, so why shouldn’t they? Instead of focusing on your work, you put energy into proving your work ethic to people at the office. But even more importantly, when you don’t set up clear boundaries between work and home, you’ll end up with no clear boundaries between work and home. I’ve seen many employees write their emails at all hours of the early morning and late night revealing they are always catching up or playing offense to put the ball back in the office’s court while they're busy tending to kids. As an employer (and someone who has worked at home), I can honestly say that I feel a lot less hesitation to call someone at home at night if they’ve been working from home during the day.
Working at home is actually more confusing to children than seeing their parents leave for work every day. You are teasing the kids with your physical presence but your complete lack of mental presence. They can get used to your leaving home for the office, but they will have a hard time getting used to you ignoring them. The distinction is too subtle for them to understand.
Work, on the other hand, will likely perceive you to be slacking off no matter how diligent you are when you’re home. If you’re a mom, your office assumes that you’re hanging out with your children at least a chunk of the time. That’s the whole point, right—to be with them?
Frustration will abound. Think about it. In business, some things are very, very timely. I resent (we’re being honest here, right?) having to email or call for everything that I could have poked my head out of my office to convey. Even worse, I hate being put on hold while my at-home employee mutes the phone to either discipline the kids, or serve snacks. It’s not that I hate kids or want their needs ignored. (I have four that I adore.) It’s that a working mother can’t tend to those needs when she should be working.
If I can’t reach one of my staff while they are on a business trip, I immediately assume they must be busy doing business, yet I’ve been on enough business trips myself to know that the amount of time doing business is a much smaller percentage than the amount of time doing all kinds of other things (driving around lost, waiting in a security line at the airport, finding an Applebee’s, or being in the hotel business center trying to print something). I accept the inefficiencies because the work accomplished on a trip by its nature can’t be done in the office. But work done from home can certainly be done in the office. So honestly, if you're not on a business trip and I don’t see your face, or you, in your chair, it feels to me as if you’re not working. I realize this may be irrational, but it’s a common sentiment whether it’s acknowledged or not.
The reason someone works from home is because it’s better for them and they want to, not because they will be able to be that much more efficient or help the organization accomplish its goals, or some other business buzzword lip service like that.
Think about this: Have you ever been at the office and your boss is working from home? Can you honestly say that you work quite as hard, are just as diligent, and get just as much done as when your boss is there? Honestly, probably not. It’s that feeling we have from elementary school: "Hey, we have a substitute teacher so it’s going to be an easy day and we’re going to try not to get that much done." Remember that if you are the boss and decide to work from home some days.
And here is the silver lining to working in the office. Sometimes, it’s just the random, serendipitous interaction that can lead to something bigger: a connection with a boss, a lead that comes in, a call where you can help out. If you're a working-from-home mother who wonders why career advancement is elusive, that lost interaction may be why. Be where you are.
—Karen Finerman is the author of the forthcoming book Finerman's Rules: Secrets I’d Only Tell My Daughters About Business and Life.
[Image: Flickr user NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center]