Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More on Yahoo! and flex time

A lot of the framing of the Yahoo! decision to ban work at home has been painting it as anti-family or anti-feminism.  Dana Goldstein has a very good refutation of this idea.  A couple of good points:

No one is forcing me to take sole responsibility for these tasks. If I don't do them when I'm "working from home," they will still get done. My boyfriend and I will split them up, or do them together. But here's the thing: It's really hard for me to be at home and ignore my domestic to-do list. I have a voice in my head telling me that until my apartment is neat, clean, and stocked with fresh food, it's perfectly okay to procrastinate on my real jobs, the ones for which I get paid: reporting, writing, and editing. After nearly three years of freelancing, I've learned that I shouldn't work from home more than one or two days per week. I now commute from Brooklyn into "the city" almost every morning, to work at the New York Pubic Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. Yes: I voluntarily spend my days in midtown Manhattan, eat lunch at the ubiquitous Hale & Hearty Soups, and dodge tourists in the subway.

So here's my tentative conclusion. Flex-time is a feminist issue. Working from home full time? Maybe not so much. And here are some very definite feminist issues: Access to high-quality, affordable childcare. Paid sick leave, maternity leave, and paternity leave. Male partners who pull their weight at home.

I also think that there is an issue of priviledge involved in these discussions.  Nobody has any trouble with the idea that an employee of McDonald's is unlikely to be able to effectively work from home.  In fact, there is evidence that employers in these sectors are trying to schedule time very flexibly in order to improve efficiency (at the cost of being able to offer a predictable schedule to employees). 

It is true that the best way to manage knoweldge based workers is via performance based metrics.  But these can be very difficult to implement if the office also has a very flexible reporting structure.  It is true that counting cars in the parking lot is a bad plan at the individual level.  But that is an issue of flex time and not the ability to work from home.  In the face of managers with growth opportunities, managing remote workers is harder than local workers (I have done both and the former requires a lot more finesse). 

So I think that Dana is on to something pretty important here. 

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