Yahoo Has Made a Terrible Mistake. Working From Home Is Great for Employees and Employers.

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Feb. 26 2013 6:11 PM

Marissa Mayer Has Made a Terrible Mistake

Working from home is great for employees—and employers.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Elsewhere in Slate, Katie Roiphe makes the case against working from home.

It was nearly a decade ago that I stopped going into the office every day. I worked at a competing Web magazine at the time, and my bosses didn’t really care how I worked, as long as I got stuff done. At first, like many people, I began working from home because I was lazy. By skipping my hourlong commute, I gave myself more time to sleep in and goof off. And without anyone watching over me, the goofing off was sure to be epic.

But I quickly realized that, counter to my intentions, working at home made me more productive. Without office distractions—listening to other people’s phone calls, bantering with the receptionist, figuring out where and with whom to go to lunch—I could report and write much faster. Telecommuting also freed me from pointless office commitments. For instance, I could call in to meetings, mute my line, and then do more important things with my time.

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When I tell people that I work at home, they usually assume one of two things—that I’m un- or underemployed and just biding my time until I get a real job, or that I possess a monkish, single-minded devotion to work that they suggest is required for successful telecommuting. Neither is true. Instead, I’ve realized that, once you learn how to do it, working at home is superior in almost every way. It allows me to be better at my job and at my life—to be a more productive employee and a not-terrible husband and dad.

Working at home isn’t for everyone. As a writer, I work according to what Y Combinator’s Paul Graham calls the “maker’s schedule.” My job requires long stretches of distraction-free time, and my output, on any particular day, is sensitive to my mood and environment. Working at home gives me the freedom to adjust these variables to maximum effect: Sometimes I find that I write better if I start a column after dinner, while other times I hit a wall during the middle of the day, take an hour off to get a snack and jump in the shower, and then come back to produce a magnificent column about pajamas.

You might work differently. Maybe your mind is best primed by conversations with your co-workers about Downton Abbey. That’s fine. The point—and this is hardly groundbreaking—is that different people work differently. Any organization whose success depends on maximizing its workers’ productivity ought to allow their employees some degree of flexibility.

That brings us to Yahoo’s ridiculous new ban on working from home. Last week, All Things D’s Kara Swisher reported that Marissa Mayer, the beleaguered Web company’s new CEO, will force Yahoo’s few hundred remote workers to relocate to its offices. In a memo Swisher obtained, the company’s human-resources chief allows workers to “occasionally” stay home to “wait for the cable guy,” but otherwise requires people—I’m sorry, “Yahoos”—to submit to “the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.” Because this was an HR memo and therefore freed from any requirement to be truthful, it went on to declare that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” It added: “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” (I asked Yahoo to explain the policy to me, and a spokeswoman responded with this brief statement: “We don't discuss internal matters. This isn't a broad industry view on working from home—this is about what is right for Yahoo!, right now.")