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Friday, Mar 01 2013 11:00 PM

The tricky business of work from home

By The Bakersfield Californian

Marissa Mayer, the working mom who runs one of America's largest companies, created a stir this week when she slapped some of the "hip and cool" out of work life in the Silicon Valley.

Mayer, 37, the workaholic CEO of Yahoo Inc., outraged some of her employees and took a thrashing in social media for her decision to end telecommuting work arrangements at the company. She would like to actually see her employees, interact with them and have them interact and collaborate with each other as they try to steady the once pioneering Internet company, which has been on a downward spiral for some time now.

As convenient as telecommuting can be for some employees, working mothers in particular, Mayer is on target. Perhaps some Silicon Valley workers need a reality check.

Most of the ire over Yahoo's new work policy is coming from working parents who view telecommuting as a way to balance their home and work lives. Where it can fit the needs of both worker and company, it is a smart option.

But when a company's fortunes change, as Yahoo's have, is it really unreasonable for that company to ask for more accountability from its workers? There is tangible value in having employees working side by side, interacting and collaborating. Compelling co-workers to talk face to face, whether it be in the meeting room or the lunch line, has huge benefits. When people work and interact in reasonable physical proximity, they share thoughts and ideas. When they learn about each other, they learn from each other. Relationship-building of that nature can be an effective contributor to morale and teamwork.

The Atlantic perhaps said it best with this headline: "Marissa Mayer's Job Is to Be CEO -- Not To Make Life Easier For Working Moms." Yes, despite the initial social media drubbing, Mayer has support. "Marissa Mayer is a CEO first and a woman second," Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, wrote in The Atlantic. "And as a CEO, her first job is to save her company. If she fails in that, the employees she is insisting come in to the office will have no jobs to come in to."

It makes good business sense for companies, including those here in Kern County, to offer work arrangements that benefit both employee and company. No doubt, employee morale and productivity improve when the effort to produce a product or offer a service is collaborative among invested parties.

Whether telecommuting is effective really depends on the company, the type of work involved and the nature of the employee. Telecommuting can save companies more than $500 billion a year in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, turnover and productivity costs, according to the Telework Research Network.

But in the case of Yahoo and other companies in distress, the priority remains actually having a company in the first place. Asking employees to make a change that might help ensure survival is entirely reasonable.

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