I was interviewed in a piece on NPR today by Jennifer Ludden on Marisa Mayer’s now infamous “work from home memo,” available here.
Four points on the backlash:
1- Attack on Flexibility: This memo was perceived as taking something away that employees have gained in today’s workplace, something that innovation has enabled. And it’s more than just working from home – flexibility and remote work policies often go hand in hand and people, working mothers in particular, conflate them. They viewed this memo as an attack on flexibility as well. Studies show that most working moms want to work flexibly, or part time. That’s why the backlash was particularly harsh among female bloggers.
2 – Trusting Employees: I currently supervise work-from-home employees. We are in a lot of contact all the time, via phone, gchat, email, texting, and all that virtual contact replaces the physical contact. Scheduling face to face meetings periodically does help, just to reignite the connection. But I do not need to see them every day as long as we communicate and the work product is good. I trust them. And if I think they are abusing the remote work situation, we can talk about that, but if it is serious, I doubt making them come into an office is going to rekindle my trust in them (and my guess is that even if they always came into an office, it wouldn’t have worked out.)
3 – Mayer as Resistant Role Model: It is clear that Marisa Mayer was judged more harshly than a man would have been for this policy. She sanctioned this memo as an executive looking to improve the bottom line of her company and not as the role model for the masses of moms struggling with the demands of work and family. It may not be fair for her – she has consistently (and absurdly) shrugged off any idea that she is a “feminist” – but by dint of being a female (and an imminent mom to boot) and joining the 4% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies with a uterus, she is now bearing the weight of being a pioneer, for good or bad.
4 – The silver lining of this memo is that it has engendered a productive conversation about not only the benefits and drawbacks of working from home, but also the benefits of a flexible work schedule.