I’m inspired to write this blog based on a truly rare and unique phenomenon. For the past two out of three workdays, sleet, ice and freezing temperatures have befallen the city of Houston, Texas, forcing us to work from home.
Now I know, this is nothing compared to what our friends in the northern states have to contend with. But when you take into consideration the fact that Houston drivers are completely unprepared to deal with icy road conditions, and the concept of snow tires and salted roads is completely foreign to us, it makes for a treacherous commute. (And before you make fun, just know that we find your intolerance of 95-degree summer days equally as amusing).
It was nearly a year ago that I wrote a blog about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and her decision to end Yahoo’s work-from-home privileges. I listed every standard advantage and disadvantage of working from home – primarily as viewed through the eyes of the average business owner or HR manager. But after sitting at home for the past two days and completing the same work I normally do in the office, I’m faced with new thoughts and feelings on the privilege, and burden, of working from home.
I consider multi-tasking one of my strong points. I take pride in the fact that I can accomplish the same work on my couch while watching horrible daytime talk shows as I can sitting in an office cubicle. I live alone and have no distractions. My morning commute consists of walking from my bedroom to my living room, which saves me money on gas, and allows me to avoid dealing with other drivers on the road (which can be especially stressful, as mentioned in the first paragraph). For employees with small children, working from home can be a huge economic advantage, allowing them to save hundreds on daycare expenses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four U.S. workers telecommutes at least occasionally. They also state that “an increasing number of jobs in the American economy could be performed at home if employers were willing to allow employees to do so.” The issue, however, is not whether the work can be completed remotely in an efficient manner, but rather employers wanting to retain the cohesiveness of their workforce. This is clearly what Marissa Mayer had in mind when she sent out the memo to Yahoo employees stating, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
In a recent article by David Amerland of Forbes.com, Mayer’s previous employer, Google, is cited as sharing her disapproval for the telecommuting trend. The company is known for offering employee perks unheard of at any other company. They even encourage employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on non-work-related projects – all in an effort to keep employees in the office. When interviewed, Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette admitted, “There is something magical about sharing meals. There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking, ‘What do you think of this?’”
After two full days of staring at the walls of my living room, I’ve made a determination: interaction breeds creativity. While there are some who can be creative with nothing more than a pen and paper, I believe the majority of our creativity is built upon others’ creativity. Even those in decidedly non-creative fields have moments of divine inspiration, and in an office with a friendly atmosphere and positive work culture, the first thing that employee will do is share with his or her coworkers. Recruiting, in my opinion, is an especially creative field. If a search is at a standstill, one recruiter’s creative thinking may give way to his or her whole team altering their searches and ultimately finding a new pool of passive candidates. The creative domino effect doesn’t occur when one works alone at home.
The events of this past week have made me appreciate the conveniences of working from home. Honestly, I would like the opportunity to do so once or twice a month, or at least more often than the apocalyptic occurrence of an ice storm in Houston. But they have also given me an appreciation for the interaction with my coworkers, and the creativity it creates. I can only think of one or two blog posts I’ve written based on something I read on the internet. The majority of my posts have been inspired by my activities in the office, the activities of my coworkers, or stories of their past experiences. Technology has come a long way in recent years, but it’s still far from replacing that which is lost from lack of employee interaction. Until that changes, I’ll stand with Marissa Mayer.