I don’t envy Marissa Mayer. The Yahoo CEO and new mom is both inspirational to mothers (she took over a major company while six months pregnant!), and a bane (and then she said raising an infant was “way easier” than she expected!) Now that she’s banned Yahoo employees from working from home, popular mompinion is leaning towards bane. As the leaked memo sent by Yahoo HR head Jackie Reses explained:
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” This sounds good, but critics counter that the policy is not only anachronistic, it’s particularly damaging to parents, especially moms who rely on the flexibility of an occasional home-office to care for their kids.
I understand where the critics are coming from. I’m a freelancer, and my worth is measured by my work, not the process I use to create it. As long as I can produce quality articles to deadline, my editors are happy. Why shouldn’t Yahoo employees have the same kind of deal?
I used to reward myself for deadlines met with yoga breaks and naps, happy to be free from rigid schedules and office politics. But now that I’m raising Babydude, instead of planning my own naps, I’m praying his will be long enough that I can research, write, edit or file a story, update my Twitter feed, get in touch with my editors, check online for new work, brainstorm pitches, start a load of laundry and get dinner started. Of course, his naps are never long enough.
And while my job once came with certain luxuries, sick days were never one of them. As long as my worth is measured by my output, then I must work. As I write, I am bone tired and sick from a nasty flu that has somehow morphed into pinkeye. I’m keeping my grade-school cooties at home where they belong, but I’d much rather be curled into a blanket, sipping chicken soup and watching Cosby Show reruns. But I won’t, for fear of being perceived as unreliable. Because another luxury freelancing doesn’t afford is job security. Like half the working population in my city, who hobble together part-time, freelance and contract positions as best they can, I must do whatever it takes to keep the work coming.
Babydude’s with his grandma at the moment, and I’m trying to cram it all in before she leaves. Luckily he’s not sick, and if we weren’t one of the thousands of Toronto families waiting for a daycare space, and he was at school, perhaps I’d feel more secure about my work – maybe even secure enough to take the nap my aching body craves.
It’s no wonder, then, that I now fantasize about the kind of secure, full-time, benefits-laden jobs that big companies like Yahoo still provide. They’re a scarce commodity, and if reintroducing face time and collaboration – aspects of traditional employment that have always created security for the hard-working, improves Yahoo’s bottom line, then it will help keep Yahoo’s employees in those plum jobs, and I’m all for it.
But working families need secure childcare as much as they need secure jobs. Marissa Mayer knows it – after all, she had a nursery installed in her office. But as long as her employees face any kind of childcare pressures, whether it be cost, affordability or reliability, then eliminating telecommuting means eliminating one of the few safety valves still available to working moms. And that doesn’t give the rest of us much to hope for.