Friday, March 8, 2013

Why working from home doesn't work

My edits: Unwashed (but combed) hair + bra (thank you very much) + sweatpants +
 a laptop 6 hours a day (if I'm lucky)= Being married with two young kids and
working from home. (Illustration:

Working from home is a solitary existence. Perhaps that's why I hate it so much. OK, hate is a strong word. But as an extrovert who craves human interaction outside of my home and preferably in a cafe, at an interesting intersection, or dare I say it -- in a pod of cubicles -- I'll use the words "strongly dislike." 

When people find out I work from home the reaction is usually one of envy. "Oh, that's so awesome -- you get to make your own hours," "I can't stand my commute, it would be amazing to work at home," "So cool! I would KILL to work in my pajamas every day!" Yeah, you can make your own hours, avoid a headache-inducing commute and you get to work in your pajamas (heck, you don't have to wash your face or even brush your teeth if that's your thing). But working from home is overrated.   

It's why I nodded my head in agreement when Marissa Mayer shut down telecommuting and decreed that Yahoo employees could no longer work from home. Of course, there was public outcry for her seemingly un-21st century corporate CEO decision (Virgin supermogul Richard Branson called it "old school thinking" and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg declared Mayer's directive as "one of the dumber ideas I've ever heard"). The outrage was especially fierce from feminists and working mothers alike. "I find it ironic that a woman with a baby and the leader of Yahoo, of all companies, feels the need to step back in time and order everyone to the big building," a woman commented on a Washington Post column. 

Marissa Mayer got a lot of heat for ending Yahoo's
work-from-home policy. But I think she got it right.

I get it. It seems like a step backwards, a usurping of individual empowerment, and completely impractical given the technology at hand.     

I've spent 15 years in the workforce and of those, spent a good chunk of my writing career freelancing AND going into an office.  Yes, as a freelance writer I have the luxury of making my own hours. But sometimes that means working late into the evening when the kids are tucked into bed. It means trying to squeeze in more work when you feel like you haven't done enough. One thing I liked about going into an office was the fact that I would leave my work AT WORK once it was time to come home. It's healthy to physically uproot yourself from your work space. Separating your professional life from your personal one helps to set clear boundaries.   

I understand the allure of working in your pajamas. But there's something empowering about getting dressed for work. For me, there is great fulfillment in putting on my war paint, wearing a stylish outfit and throwing on some heels. And I don't care what anybody says, there's absolutely NOTHING empowering about wearing sweatpants 24-7. Your hair is unkempt, you probably need to change your underwear and your breath stinks. Sounds silly, but when I worked in an office, one of the most exciting parts of my evening was figuring out what I was going to wear the next day. Button-down blouse or t-shirt? Pencil skirt or skinny jeans? Flats or wedges? Colorful chunky beads or delicate sterling silver necklace? (See how much fun it is?)      

Yeah, everyone poo-poos their commute. But there can be something magical (yes, I said magical) about it. Given it's within reason and something that isn't making you want to end your life (ex: I've done the one-hour drive to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 and IT SUCKS). My morning commute had a specific ritual: after I dropped off the kids at school I would go to Starbucks and get my favorite drink then drive the rest of the way with my stereo blasting my favorite music. Since hip hop and gangsta rap isn't conducive to good parenting (well, some of it anyway), my commute was MY time to listen to whatever I wanted without having to explain what the F word was to my toddler. See what I mean? Magical.    

And let's not forget the simplest (and perhaps most brilliant) of workplace concepts: community. This is the #1 reason why I like going into an office. I love collaborating. I love working on a team. Nothing gets your creative juices flowing better than discussing (even debating) ideas with your colleagues. When I worked in a newsroom, I loved the sound of phones ringing off the hook. I loved the hammering away of fingers on keyboards during deadline. I loved peeking over my half-cubicle to ask how the word "flummoxed" should be used in a sentence. Researchers call this "synergy." I call it iron sharpening iron.

Why working in an office rocks. (Illustration:

I can't wait to get to New York and work in an office (that sounds kind of funny, right?). But it's not the building that's important, it's what it symbolizes -- the exchanging of ideas, the collaboration of creative minds, and working together to build something greater than any one person could do by herself.