Memo to Yahoo CEO: Look at me work!

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Traditionalists will be glad to know that this column is being written in the office, surrounded by a great heap of untidy papers that threaten to re-enact a landslide. Frequent trips to the water cooler are involved in the creative process and many meetings because, well, this is America, home of the meeting attendees.

Not for me the work-at-home lifestyle, which offers none of these amenities. No, my bosses want me to be physically present here at the word factory, the better to inspire my colleagues with my personal dynamism. Of course, they haven't actually told me that because they don't want to offend my wonderful sense of humility.

But now a corporate cat has been thrown among the pigeons and feathers have been ruffled. Yahoo Inc.'s CEO, Marissa Mayer, 37, recently ordered staff working from home to report to their offices starting in June, igniting a national debate about whether home or office was the best place for worker productivity.

Working at home is on the rise and admittedly there's some evidence that it is more productive for some people if not for me. It is certainly a boon to those workers -- women especially -- who wish to balance child care with a career. Ms. Mayer has it easier. She paid for a nursery to be built next to her office after the birth last year of her first child.

CEOs can make their own rules, of course, and Yahoo staffers who have the misfortune not to be CEOs are being told that working side by side with others encourages collaboration and improves work speed and quality. However, as much as I like working in the office, this is not been my experience, at least the speed part.

The meetings are the problem. Having to attend meetings all the time allows very little opportunity to write anything. While this would seem to be an unproductive use of my time, it is obviously a blessing to the readers. People get annoyed enough as it is without giving them more opportunity.

Office meetings do serve another important purpose. They allow me to show the bosses that I am well briefed on the issues. That is why I try not to say anything. There's always a chance that they will think still waters run deep. Sometimes the impression I make is so impressive that colleagues will say to each other: "Is Reg in quiet dynamic mode or is he asleep?" A computer screen for an online meeting can't convey the sheer drama of these moments in all their snoring glory.

Working side to side with colleagues does lead to collaboration. Sometimes our collaborations result in sending out for wedding soup (a Pittsburgh speciality much better than the bitter divorce soup) or a cake for someone's birthday. We eat so much cake around here you would think Marie Antoinette was one of the editors.

Also, we have chats about subjects that have nothing to do with anything and that obviously makes the day go faster, at least until the next scheduled meeting.

I couldn't work at home anyway. I don't have a dog (my beloved Sooner is no more, having run out of dog years last year). Being home all day without a dog is one of the loneliest feelings a person can experience. I don't know how any boss can expect a dog-deprived miserable person to be productive. Maybe Ms. Mayer should require only staffers without dogs to go back to the office.

To be sure, some people thrive working at home, dogs or not. But being a non-self-starting person, I'd need an automatic bed ejector to throw me into the study at a certain hour, say 10 a.m., if I were working at home.

The danger is that I would wear pajamas so much that I would risk turning into a full-time blogger. As for an untidy work desk, Mrs. Reg would never allow that at home -- and the thought of increased efficiency due to a clutter-free desk would promptly send me back to bed. But somehow I doubt that the average Yahoo staffer is like me.

If Ms. Mayer reads this, I hope she is cheered by the many advantages of office work attendance that I have outlined here. I find it encouraging that an Internet-related company is making old-fashioned ways seem fashionable again. For a long time all we heard was how computers had eliminated the tyranny of time and place in an interconnected world.

Now, thanks to Yahoo, the world has shrunk back to cubicles next to each other with workers shouting over the partitions. "Hey, Greg, shall we send out for wedding soup or order a cake for Susan's birthday?"


Reg Henry: or 412-263-1668.


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