Hey Marissa Mayer, Remote Workers Collaborate Too

Hey Marissa Mayer, Remote Workers Collaborate Too

With the controversy earlier this year from Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision for employees to go into the office there was much heated debate about what should and should not be company policy for work from home employees. In the end, this is really about the specific company and their needs. However, as a working mother of young children, I do see it as limiting, and nearly discriminating, to require full-time in office work for many computer-based professionals. Our culture needs to take a really close look at the road blocks we put on the road to work life balance.

There is no such thing as work life balance, there is just life with a specific amount of hours each day.

The debate also needs to take into account the factor that many companies expect too many hours of work, versus looking at the quality of the work produced. Expecting people to work excessive overtime, whether they do that in an office or at their desk is not conducive to raising a family, period. People should never have to choose career versus family, yet that is the general societal norm that most of the United States embodies.

It has been said that people are more collaborative when they work together, in person. I do not agree with a blanket statement like that. I think that whether you work from home or not, how you work and how you relate to other people has a lot more to do with your personality type than it does a blanket statement of “people collaborate better in person”. People can really have great things happen in person, and they can also do it remotely, it’s that simple. What is the main ingredient for magic to happen and collaboration to be successful? There are two. Inclusion and trust.

Building trust takes time. At my last job I would say that it took me four months to establish trust as a new practice was added to the program (UX/UI). After that though, it was smooth sailing. Could that time have been decreased by an in person pow-wow, perhaps. But that would have only been needed for a few days, not full-time working in person time. Inclusion also takes a commitment from the people involved. Both inclusion and trust require a relationship to be formed and a general desire to work together. If only one person tries to do this, it will likely fail, whether you are working in person sharing a cubicle or not. Just like any relationship, it takes two (or three or four, depending on the team dynamics).

What people do tend to do better in person is use humor to lighten even tense situations. This is why I personally am obsessed with emoticons like the ones on Skype, because just throwing in a ninja removes tension from even a frustrating conversation or situation. I find that its important to ask people about their lives, and to genuinely care about them, not just their work output.

I talk to people on the phone, by email, on Skype, on Lync, blackberry, iPhone, home phone, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. I am reachable for goodness sakes. We are all reachable and super-connected, or if we aren’t it is on purpose. I can look at your beautiful face on Skype, Google Hangout, JoinMe, Facetime and a million other options. Or, if you have not brushed your hair because you chose to work out for 15 minutes before signing into work, we do not have to look at each other’s faces. This ability for people to get dressed or not, to see your face or not, is good, this gives people the chance at a little more balance and health with their life if they choose to use their time wisely.

I think the ideal balance for a global world is to not expect unreasonable things from anyone, no matter where they live. Allow remote work, clear communication, trust building. When specific needs call for it, get together and spend some face time also.

Frankly, I have no better way of saying it, I would not be able to eat right, exercise, be a mother to two young daughters and work full-time if I could not work from home. I would spend at least 2 hours each day driving in traffic, with no productivity or use of that time, unless I listen to an audio book. I think it’s really important that we respect people’s time. This includes not having pointless meetings and allowing them time to work as well as rest, exercise, eat and think.

I actually really miss seeing people when I work from home all the time, so I am always happy to go into the office here or there for reasons that require it. Some personalities would never WANT to work from home, so forcing them to would also not make sense. I have essentially worked from home at least a portion of the time for the last 5 years – since I had my first daughter.

I don’t care how fast paced the world gets, I don’t care how important everything is, we cannot drive ourselves into the ground as slaves. Let’s get creative with how to get more valuable work done rather than with milking more of people’s time just for the sake of “collaboration.”

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