Marissa Mayer, chief executive at Yahoo, has been getting an earful lately. A memo sent to staff decreed that, come June 1st, all Yahoo employees will have to come into the office to work. (Presumably this does not apply to those who toil in call centres in New Delhi and other off-shore locations since that would be a very long commute.)
Yahoo’s business is struggling, and in desperation to shore up its fortunes, Mayer has reached out to the power of the tribe. Something along the lines of, ‘Employees who eat their yogurt cup snacks together, win together. Yahoo!’
Strange that a high-tech company, one that has enabled people to communicate and work from anywhere, is snapping the chain and tethering workers to the office bullpen just like it’s 1950 all over again. Recent surveys show that workers who telecommute are more productive and have better morale than those who trudge into the office five days a week. Doubly strange is that it’s a woman and a mother who is yanking the chain.
An inflexible workplace hurts women more than men. Women throughout the world work long hours in the home. Though the gap is narrower in some regions than others, unpaid housework and childcare duties fall primarily to a woman, regardless of whether she holds paid work elsewhere. In the rich world, this amounts to 33 hours of housework for women vs. 16 for men. Each child under five adds 20 extra minutes of work to her schedule but only a few minutes to his.
Unless these mundane yet mandatory duties are outsourced—and only the affluent can do this—someone in the family has to do them. And while some of us are nostalgic for halcyon days, when a woman occupied herself solely with domestic work, preparing hot meals and ironing the bedsheets, today’s rising costs of living require a two-earner household regardless of one’s preferences.
In order to juggle a double or triple workload, women have taken part-time work or gravitated to full-time jobs in professions or industry sectors that allow for some autonomy in scheduling. The public sector has been one such refuge because it offers generous maternity and health benefits, as well as reasonable work hours. However, with mounting government debts, public sector jobs are being eliminated and this is having a deleterious effect on women’s full-time employment prospects.
Few employers acknowledge the realities of life because it is not in their best interests to do so. As long as you show up to work, with bells on, what you had to do to get there and stay there until quitting time is of no concern. They pay lip service to work/life balance but those workers who request flextime or work part-time are often given short shrift when it’s time to dole out promotions and pay raises. Yet the corporate ideal of the 1950s-style salaryman who worked at a desk in full-view, 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday, could only exist because he was being subsidized by a woman doing all the unpaid labour back at home.
Without telecommuting it is very difficult, if not actually impossible, for many women to juggle all of their responsibilities—both paid and unpaid. Working from home may make the workday longer, and this is sub-optimal, but it also allows for time to play with a child, take the dog for a walk, exercise, make a pot of soup, defrost the pork chops, and, yes Ms. Mayer, even wait for the cable guy.