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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Because she said so, that's why
Posted by Jill | 7:29 AM
I know I've developed a habit of being a bit late to the party these days, but once again, work is eating my life and something has to be put on the back burner. But this week we've seen a great deal of hue and cry about Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, the new poster child for corporate assholery, and her demand that telecommuting employees show up at the office. What's bothersome is that this has become less a debate about the relative merits of telecommuting for employer and employee, and more a debate about child care and "family-friendly" policies.

Marissa Meyer was hired while pregnant, given a $60 million initial compensation package, gave birth, took two weeks off, and now has a nursery right next to her office. When you're the queen, you can do that. The presence of this nursery has turned the whole debate about whether simply sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week makes you somehow more productive than someone working at home, and turned it into a debate about child care. And it shouldn't be.

I work for a giant multinational corporation. My department feels more like a smaller company than part of a giant conglomerate. Right now we're in a conventional cube farm with offices around the perimeter, but in a few months we'll be moving to a spanking new office, with an "open floor plan" that everyone dreads, particularly managers, who are used to being able to close their office doors. The reason for this is the same as what we've been hearing from Marissa Meyer's e-mails to employees, about collaboration and informal brainstorming. To me this means more chitchatting and more need to plug in my earbuds, which kind of defeats the purpose. But at least for now I'm able to telecommute on days when, say, the plumber is coming or Maggie has to go to the vet. I could even, if I want to, have a regular work-at-home day, except I like keeping it flexible. So far, at least, no one in upper management is taking a page from Marissa Meyer's book and ending the partial-telecommuting option. There is one rule, however, about telecommuting where I work: If you have young children, you must have child care for them on the days you work at home. Too much sound of children asking for milk on a conference call and you could find yourself losing your telecommuting privilege, which is as it should be. You can't focus on your work and take care of a baby or toddler.

When I work from home, I start work about the time I would leave the house and work until I would usually get home. Right now this is about 1-1/2 hours of additional time I'm able to give the company every day. It saves gasoline (a huge plus about telecommuting and something the Big Brothers of corporate America conveniently forget), reduces the amount of greenhouse gases I spew into the atmosphere, and because I often focus better at home, I'm more productive. This is something you can't do if you're taking care of a toddler at the same time.

That's why it's so disheartening to see this debate about telecommuting turned into a debate about child care. Yes, there's a need for more child care in this country, but "family-friendly" means more than just child care. It means flexibility to deal with a sick parent or spouse; something most workplaces don't have. I was fortunate enough to be able to work remotely for two weeks in September when my mother became so desperately ill. I worked from 6 AM to noon, attended all my teleconferences, dealt with Mom stuff in the afternoon, and put in two more hours each night, thus putting in my eight hours (still a shorter day than usual). In the absence of my supervisor giving me permission to do this, I would have had to take family leave, which is both unpaid and does not guarantee your job when you return (unlike maternity leave, which does). Bereavement leave is three days; five if you have to travel for a funeral. Again, I was lucky that my relationship with my mother was difficult enough that I wasn't gobsmacked with grief, but I did have to burn vacation days during the time in December when I was spending my days at my mother's house, sorting through hundreds of sweaters and T-shirts and drawers full of costume jewelry. Family consists of many members, not just children. There are parents, spouses, partners; often nieces and nephews in whose lives we may be involved. But the only part of the integration of family life and work life that seems to matter is child care.

Telecommuting is about working in a different location. It isn't about being able to watch "Blues Clues" with your three-year-old. It isn't about driving your ten-year-old to soccer practice and then to the doctor. Of course you're going to have times when you take an hour or so off to do something you need to do. But too many people forget that telecommuting isn't a day off, it's supposed to be simply working in a different location, one with fewer distractions. Marissa Meyer may be doing a stealth staff cut by her termination of telecommuting, or she may just be trying to prove that she has balls as big as a male CEO. But let's not muddy the issue by turning this into a debate about child care, because telecommuting is about work and child care is not.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Why isn't it a discussion about why two parents need to work to get by these days? Isn't it better for the child if one of the parents can stay home and focus on their early childhood?