At home, every day is casual Friday
Yahoo! is cutting down on telecommuting. So it’ll be goodbye to naked working and hello to sociability
‘Could I speak to the CEO of Megacorp, please? This is Patrick Frenyne at The Irish Times, and I want to interview him about that big, important, supersecret project he’s doing,” I say authoritatively. I have a great phone voice.
“Hello, Patrick. Randy Megabucks speaking,” booms the CEO.
“Hello, Randy,” I say, before being interrupted by the sorrowful wail of my cat, who has an attitude problem.
“Are you crying?”
“No, Randy, that was my cat.”
“Your . . . cat?” he says with disgust. (Randy, even though he’s a fictionalised composite, is the kind of pillar of industry who keeps a pet snake, or possibly a lynx.)
“Yes. Anyway, I want to ask you about the [loud sizzle].”
“What the hell was that?” asks Randy Megabucks.
“Sorry, Randy. I’m cooking some eggs.” I’m working in the kitchen.
“Flying by the seat of our pants, are we?”
“Ha, ha! Not really, Randy.” I am, in fact, in the nude.
There’s a lot to be said for working from home. I did it for years. More recently, I’ve been working in an office with colleagues and a canteen, regularly showering, wearing trousers and using public transport like a real person. It has been quite a culture shock. So I was interested to hear that Yahoo! plans to cut down on telecommuting among its workers.
This is controversial. There are definitely advantages to home working. It’s flexible and family-friendly and cuts down on time-consuming commutes and unnecessary expenses (petrol, bus fares, lunches, trousers). Working from home also makes people “output-oriented” rather than “input-oriented”.
It doesn’t matter how you do the job (naked, screaming, in the bath) as long as you do the job. You can sing loudly at your desk if you want, something you can’t do in an open-plan office because it’s “disruptive”.
You need to be very disciplined to work from home. A Stanford University study in 2011 found that home-workers were 12 per cent more productive than their office-based colleagues. In my experience being at home does make you work more. While your office-bound friends think you slack off all day, it’s actually more difficult to stop working when “home mode” and “office mode” are the same thing.
On the negative side, working from home can be socially isolating. Your neighbours and postman think you’re a homebound crazy person and your friends refuse to believe you have a real job. You also begin to feel detached from the people you’re working with. They become voices on the end of phones and sentences on email.
Yahoo!’s change of direction is partially motivated by the bonding and creative opportunities that come from being together in one place. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting people and impromptu team meetings,” read a leaked memo.
And it’s a reasonable observation. For my first few weeks at The Irish Times I’d bury my head in my keyboard, ignoring all sensory input. When colleagues stopped to chat, I’d think, Why are they saying all these words unrelated to the task at hand: the production of a quality daily newspaper? They were, of course, just being pleasant, offering me guidance and coffee and occasionally asking me to stop singing.
Telecommuting saves money and time, but having people in one place forges cohesion and unity of purpose.
And I like to think I bring a little of the maverick home-working attitude to the Irish Times office. Okay, I’ve just been told I can’t bring my cat to work any more and that running shorts don’t constitute “trousers”. But you get my point.