Business
2:59 am
Fri March 1, 2013

Stay-At-Home Workers Defend Choice After Yahoo Ban

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 1:51 pm

Yahoo's sweeping edict against telecommuting has been felt as a personal attack by some of the two-thirds of Americans who regularly work from home.

Lawyer Shannan Higgins of Washington, D.C., finds one line of the company memo outlining the policy change particularly offensive: "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."

For nearly a decade, Higgins has worked one day a week from the basement office in her rowhouse, where she takes pride in her work and is obsessed with efficiency.

"It's a huge morale booster to be given that flexibility," she says. "But it also, I think, conveys a sense of trust, and that we're adults."

On a recent morning Higgins was still in yoga pants, hair uncombed — signs of precious time saved. This makes getting her two kids to school a bit less chaotic. Then there's the serious money saved by forgoing a dog walker, downtown parking and lunch out. And her home office is conveniently located next to the washer and dryer.

"This is my son's bedspread," she explains, pulling it out of the dryer. "The cat got sick last night. So rather than have it sit around all day with nastiness on it ..." She trails off as her hands fly, folding the rest of the load.

Higgins also found the Yahoo memo hypocritical. Company CEO Marissa Mayer, a new mother, has paid to build a nursery right next to her executive suite, something Higgins says few women have the money or clout to do. And yet, as a feminist studies major, Higgins admits she is torn over the biting reaction to Mayer's ban on telecommuting.

"It feels yucky to me to hear this story," she says. "I'm not happy with it. But on the other hand, if she were a man, I think the tone would be slightly different."

When Does The Workday End?

In New York, lawyer and mother of three Rebecca Hughes-Parker has worked part time at home for eight years. She found the Yahoo memo condescending.

"This kind of policy goes backwards in time," she says, "to when you really had to be chained to a desk and didn't have the flexibility to run to a child's doctor's appointment, answer emails on the way if you had to, and then come back. I think it's very scary for people to think those things are going to be taken away from them."

Like everyone interviewed for this piece, Hughes-Parker says of course she understands that face time is essential now and then. And sure, Yahoo's telecommuting ban may be just what's needed in a time of crisis. But she resents the implication that she's slacking off when her boss can't see her and wonders whether society should resurrect all the barriers between work and home.

"One of the things I thought when I read the memo," Hughes-Parker says, laughing, "[was] 'Well, if these people aren't allowed to work from home, does that mean they don't have to answer emails at night?' "

Value Of Workplace Flexibility

A recent University of Iowa survey found those who work at home put in five to seven hours more time a week.

In fact, Yahoo's move defies a larger trend. Businesses and public agencies are pushing telecommuting for all kinds of reasons, from saving money to reducing traffic. Last year, Australia's prime minister committed to having 12 percent of that country's public service regularly telework by 2020. What's more, surveys show the youngest generation of workers values flexibility even more than money.

"I think there's a lot of disappointment," says work-at-home father Scott Behson, who runs the blog Fathers, Work and Family, where he has registered dismay over the ban. He also teaches management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Behson says the only good thing about Yahoo's move is the backlash to it.

"I'm encouraged by how much media attention this has gotten," he says, "and that there's been, in many quarters, a kind of questioning of this decision, showing that maybe the time is right for full public debate on the value of workplace flexibility."

In the long run, Behson doesn't think Yahoo's telecommuting ban will survive that debate.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The sweeping edict at Yahoo that workers will no longer be allowed to work from home is still prompting heated debates, even a week on. Many hoped that as a new mom, CEO Marissa Mayer would champion work-life balance. Here's NPR's Jennifer Ludden with today's bottom line in business.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: For nearly a decade, lawyer Shannon Higgins has worked one day a week in the basement of her Washington, D.C., rowhouse.

SHANNON HIGGINS: So this is my setup.

LUDDEN: Yesterday morning, she was still in yoga pants, hair uncombed - all precious time saved, which makes getting her two kids to school a bit less chaotic. Then there's the serious money saved by forgoing a dog walker, downtown parking and lunch out. And her home office is conveniently located next to the washer and dryer.

HIGGINS: So yeah, this is my son's bedspread because the cat got sick last night. So rather than have it sit around all day with nastiness on it - yep, that's dry.

LUDDEN: Yahoo's memo said, quote, "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home." Higgins finds that offensive. She's proud of her work and obsessed with efficiency, which she says telecommuting allows her to maximize.

HIGGINS: It's a huge morale booster to be given that flexibility. But it also, I think, conveys a sense of trust and that, you know, we're adults.

LUDDEN: Higgins also found the Yahoo memo hypocritical. CEO Mayer has paid to build an office nursery for her baby right next to her executive suite, a luxury others can only dream of.

HIGGINS: Envision how that would work; like, everyone says OK, yeah. I'm going to bring my baby to work.

LUDDEN: And yet as a feminist studies major in college, Higgins admits she's torn over the biting reaction to Mayer's ban on telecommuting.

HIGGINS: It feels yucky to me, to hear this story. And I'm not happy with it. But on the other hand, it's like, well, OK. If she were a man, I think the tone would be slightly different.

LUDDEN: In New York, lawyer and mom of three Rebecca Hughes-Parker has worked partly at home for eight years. She found the Yahoo memo condescending.

REBECCA HUGHES-PARKER: This kind of policy goes backwards in time to when you really had to be chained to a desk; and didn't have the flexibility to run to your child's doctor's appointment, answer emails on the way, if you had to, and come back. And I think it's very scary for people to think that those things are going to be taken away from them.

LUDDEN: Like everyone interviewed for this piece, Parker says of course she understands that face time is essential now and then. And sure, Yahoo's telecommuting ban may be just what's needed in a time of crisis. But Parker resents the implication that she's slacking off when her boss can't see her.

HUGHES-PARKER: One of the things I thought, when I read the memo, was well, if these people aren't allowed to work from home, does that mean that they don't have to answer emails when they're at home at night? If we're going to re-enact the barriers between work and home, then maybe we should re-enact them.

LUDDEN: A recent University of Iowa survey found those who work at home put in five to seven hours more time a week. In fact, Yahoo's move defies a larger trend. Businesses and public agencies are pushing telecommuting for all kinds of reasons, from saving money to reducing traffic. Last year, Australia's prime minister committed to having 12 percent of that country's public service regularly telework by 2020. What's more, surveys show the youngest generation of workers values flexibility even more than money.

SCOTT BEHSON: You know, I think there's a lot of disappointment.

LUDDEN: Work-at-home father Scott Behson runs the blog Fathers, Work and Family, where he's registered dismay over the ban. He also teaches management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Behson says the only good thing about Yahoo's move is the backlash to it.

BEHSON: I'm encouraged by how much media attention this has gotten, and that there's been, in many quarters, kind of questioning of this decision, showing that maybe the time is right for full public debate on the value of workplace flexibility.

LUDDEN: In the long run, Behson doesn't think Yahoo's ban on working at home will survive that debate. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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