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A Thank You Note to Yahoo's Marissa Mayer from a Work-at-Home Mom


Published on: December 30, 2013

multitaskwomanDear Marissa,

I just wanted to thank you for leaking that memorandum last week about Yahoo’s new work-at-home policy. You’re an absolute lifesaver! This 24/7 work-work-work ethic we’ve somehow evolved into needs some serious boundaries. Somebody had to put a stop to it, and I’m so glad you did.

Those critics last week? Yeah, well, they got it all wrong.

Someone in the tech community said you must have slipped on your head and went back to the year 1955. Famed parenting blogger Lisa Belkin wrote that your new policy is calling for an enforced and antiquated division. The Boston Herald claimed your star is falling fast (and you also apparently made the author hostile toward your use of exclamation points (?!!!!!?) The Los Angeles Times called you “one of Silicon Valley’s most notorious workaholics … not the role model that some working moms were hoping for.

On Slate’s Double X, Hanna Rosin, author of the book The End of Men, took to heart your casual dismissal of the word “feminist” and asked us to ponder whether the term was even relevant anymore. And then there was that snarky tech dude who simply wrote, “The 1980s called. They have a fax machine for you.”

What a bunch of Yahoos! All of them! Er, whoops — sorry about that. Maybe not the best word choice on my part.

Look, I get it. You’re a new CEO and you’ve been thrust into the stickiest of sticky situations. You need to turn this company around as quick as that mad dash of a maternity leave you just got back from — or else. What’s it going to take to get your company back on track? Certainly not a bunch of employees who are enjoying their work-at-home perks.

“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” reads the memo to employees from your HR head Jackie Reses. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

I’ve never been a CEO (thank God) but at one time I was a VP & GM of a large division at an entertainment company in Los Angeles. Like you, I was young and put in charge of the “turnaround plan,” and like you, I oversaw a lot of young technical and creative professionals who — surprise surprise — claimed they could “get a lot more work done from home.”

Not so fast. This was back in 2001 when the economy was reeling from the effects of 9/11 and flexible work schedules were hardly the norm. But even if they were — it’s beside the point. When the stakes are high, it’s time for all hands on deck, otherwise known as get your butt into the office.

I laid off 75% of my team that year, and shortly after that, the company was sold and we were all looking for new jobs. I hope yours is a different fate. Don’t let the politics of being the youngest working mom CEO distract you from your job.

So while we’re on the subject — and I hate to look in my crystal ball and see anything but effective and highly innovative employees happily working at their office desks for eternity at Yahoo! — I just wanted to let you know, should you ever consider a change in employment, that working from home doesn’t work.

We need boundaries. As if being a working parent isn’t hard enough, working at home is just asking for trouble. I know, because I’m a work-at-home mom.

Yes, of course it’s great to be able to walk my kiddos to school and spend my days juggling clients and assignments from the comfort of my home office. But then they come home and all hell breaks loose. A client calls at the same moment my son is screaming for me to come help him on the toilet. The afternoon sitter, who often makes more per hour than I do, especially if I’m working on a writing assignment, interrupts me to ask if it’s OK that the kids are drawing on the walls with Sharpie pens. Somehow I manage to get dinner on the table, our family enjoys about 28.5 minutes of “quality down time” together and then guess what? It’s time for me to go back to work.

My day is never really done. I. Work. All. The. Time. I know, part of my problem is that this is my problem, and I need to organize my time differently. But the other part of the problem is that my clients — CEOs of start up companies, magazine editors and managers of Fortune 500 companies alike — email me and send information requests at all hours of the day and night.

I don’t watch TV, I haven’t seen a movie in years, and my kids are like latchkey children, only their mother is present and rarely paying attention. Working at home constantly forces me to choose between the demands of work and the pull of home — and what happens most often is that I find myself failing at both.

Thank you for helping put a stop to this work-life balance mirage. This week, Forbes author and CEO Jan Bruce posted a timely article, 5 Work-from-Home Myths (Or, Why I Applaud Marissa Mayer) and I couldn’t agree more. Offices are designed for productivity. Teamwork, collaboration, shifts in strategy, innovation; impromptu meetings — all of these are integral to a company’s success. Workplaces are for work. Home should be a respite from work. Yes, we can still have work-from-home professional contributors — there’s another word for them and it’s called self-employment.

Marissa, if I didn’t really, really love what I do and thrive on the constant hustle of freelance assignments, I’d send you my resume in a heartbeat. I do have some ideas on how you can turn Yahoo! around. And once I was safely in the confines of my luxurious, distraction-free cubicle, I would never, ever ask you if I could work at home. Not working from home would be considered a major perk of the job.

107Allison Ellis is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives and writes in Seattle. Read more of her work at AllisonEllis.

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