Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
"Why can't we just be good at hiring?" quipped Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer when she was asked at an all-staff meeting whether her rigorous hiring policies had caused Yahoo! to "miss out on top engineering talent in Silicon Valley's hyper-competitive job market." Silicon Valley is home to rival tech firms, including Google and eBay. This was reported by an employee at the executive meeting who requested to speak anonymously.
Jackie Reses, Yahoo!'s executive vice president of people and development went ahead and circulated a controversial memo banning working from home that leaked to the media. The memo underscored Mayer’s insistence that communication and collaboration was required to turn around the company that is battling for market share in a progressive tech industry. In the memo was the message that the company’s remote workers must show up at the office effective June, 2013 or look for work elsewhere.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together,” the memo read. Unsurprisingly, Yahoo!’s new policy suspending working from home and effectively ending the company's previous telecommuting policy has sparked heated discussions on productivity and work-life balance across the globe.
The debate on productivity and work-life balance
Many remote workers and pundits were riled about the new policy at Yahoo!, including bloggers and freelance writers. Critics labeled Mayer, who had just built a nursery in her office so she could bring her four-month-old son to the office, a hypocrite who does not lead by example.
Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, said in a blog post that Yahoo!'s decision to no longer allow employees to work from home was "a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever." Yahoo!’s own remote workers argued that forcing them to commute constituted a pay cut. They accused Mayer of being out of tune with the times. Others went further and trotted out data and anecdotes about the productivity of telecommuters.
Yet, in the midst of the avalanche of criticism, some senior executives like Donald Trump praised Mayer for her bold leadership, saying she had made a tough but savvy business decision that could help yank Yahoo! back on its feet. Facebook chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, while not expressly commenting on Mayer’s work from home policy, made it clear in a feature story on Time magazine that she believes no man who ordered the same policies would have come under fire the way Mayer has. To her, it would appear the Yahoo! CEO is under fire because she's a woman.
If you are one of those who feel aggrieved by the insinuation by Yahoo!’s top executives that working from home or telecommuting comes from a place of laziness, there are reasons you should still smile despite Mayer’s apparent cold war on working from home. Keep in mind that there is more in a smile than just showing pleasure.
1. Smile to brush off the hurt
Psychologists say smiling is one way to reduce distress caused by an upsetting situation. They call the idea that a person's facial expressions can impact his or her emotional experiences facial feedback hypothesis. Forcing a smile, even when you don’t feel like it, is enough to lift your spirit and mood, at least slightly. Otherwise, you are likely to feel really bad about certain situations and get terribly upset.
Yahoo!’s thinly disguised, job-cutting policy meant to lay off “slackers” working from home is hurtful – laughable even. It sweepingly categorizes its remote workers as “slackers;” and, by extension, labels you too a slacker even if you are a hardworking and productive home worker. Smile to brush off the hurt (read: insult to hardworking teleworkers), knowing there has been little discussion on how Yahoo! arrived at the conclusion that it’s problems are largely due to "slackers" working from home.
For all we know, Yahoo’s problems might well lay with its managers and not be any fault of its remote workforce. Yahoo! claims their policy was driven by the fact that "There were all these employees (working remotely) and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo!." But, we can ask Yahoo! where its telecommuting manager(s) and management structure was all this time that that they failed to keep track of their remote workers. Doesn’t this point to a management oversight problem? Boom!
2. Smile to affirm studies on telecommuting
Of course, smiling at upsetting things is not always appropriate. It may work for you, but it doesn’t look good to others. Research actually shows that people who smile at distressing things are judged less likeable by others. But, a number of studies have proven telecommuting is quite the opposite of what Yahoo! seems to suggest it is. Smile and node with approval to affirm the various studies on telecommuting that justify our work-from-home lifestyle:
- A Stanford study, conveniently released on the same day that Yahoo! circulated its memo banning working from home, reported that call center employees increased their performance by 13 percent when working from home. Evidence from the Chinese experiment also found that teleworkers enjoyed “improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover.”
- Another study by the University of Texas at Austin found that people who work from home “add five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office.” This study completely dispels the notion that home workers are “slackers.” In fact, it puts it out in the open that we home workers are actually workhorses! Makes you want to smile, doesn't it?
- Yet another study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that working remotely “seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism (that means missing work), and increase retention (that means remaining in your job).” The authors also reported that working remotely gave employers more incentive to ask remote employees to work on weekends. Feel free to give a full blown smile now.
3. Smile to acknowledge telecommuting drawbacks
Obviously, there are drawbacks to working from home just as there are drawbacks to working exclusively at the office. For starters, bosses are roughly nine percent more likely to consider you “responsible” and “dependable if you “put in expected face time” in the office, according to a report published in the MIT Sloan Management Review. What this means is that you have less chance of impressing the boss when you work remotely.
Moreover, telecommuting is not for everyone. Mayer’s policy against working from home might actually be necessary for those people who are unable to work without direct supervision or be productive in a work-at-home setting, either because of friends and family distractions or their own limited capacity to focus in the face of more enticing activities like watching television.
That being said, working from home is a mixed bag for both employee and employer. On the one hand, enhanced productivity, more work satisfaction, less turnover are all good things. On the other hand, longer hours, smaller raises, lower performance evaluations are not so good.
Cue a smile because you fully understand the pros and cons of telecommuting and still prefer your work from home lifestyle. Besides, we all know Yahoo! just took a big chance with its new policy that bans working from home.