I have been working from home for some time.
I use the term “working” in a loose fashion, since my work involves a combination of writing activities, paid and unpaid. By nature, I am a social person, who likes conversation. However, lately, most of my day consists of an uninterrupted (and sullen) stare at a computer screen.
During breaks between work (which are quite frequent), I watch Youtube videos, read provocative news articles, Facebook, or search Google for whatever catches my fancy. Access to free and unfettered information about interesting subjects has not converted me into a human encyclopedia. Rather, I have become a compendium of useless half-baked facts. It has also resulted in an uncoordinated (and undisciplined) meander on the web that takes hours away from productive time. Although I get work done, sometimes, I crave the stimulation and discipline of human conversation.
Still, it was not always this way.
I worked for eight years in an office environment. The office was a physical space, an environment that demarcated the problems in my life. The commute to and from office disciplined my day and divided it into neat and manageable segments.
I learned quite a lot during this time. In fact, I made few friends but several enemies during my time working. I learned about processes and, about, cultural dynamics. I did not always get along with colleagues. However, disagreements were always sorted out in person and did not last long. It was a bit like living with a spouse. Love them or loathe them, you have an incentive to work things out with your spouse because you belong to a shared physical space.
In any case, I was richer due to the interaction. Through their conversation, co-workers stimulated my thinking and provoked reactions. That feeling, I hope, was mutual. Nowadays, my reactions to screen antics are mostly limited to glassy-eyed stares.
Because I worked in the IT Services sector, part of my work was done from home, when I coordinated with the onsite/offshore team at strange hours. While working from home wasn’t frowned upon, face-to-face interaction was encouraged. In fact, some colleagues, who worked from home in another city, actually made trips to the office once a month or three. In addition, we shared photos and videos with our onsite team to get a sense of the other person.
So, I am intrigued by the kerfuffle that Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to ban working from home for Yahoo employees has raised. From all accounts, the move is a precursor to layoffs. Even otherwise, I think she is intent on tackling the overall larger culture problem at Yahoo.
The conveniences of working from home are overrated.
Working from home is supposed to remove colleague- and travel-related friction from work. After all, what can be better than working with your loved ones. It increases productivity and enables you to enjoy the comforts of home (Work in your Pajamas! Work at your own leisure! Get Household Chores done while working!).
Of course, what no one talks about are the negatives of working from home. They don’t talk about the loneliness and absence of stimulating conversation. They don’t talk about the lack of validation (online validation can never equal in-person validation). The amount of time spent in useless interactions with your family or in running chores. They don’t talk about the blurring of distinctions between family and office lives, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Finally, they don’t talk about how the work from home facility can, sometimes, be abused and result in less productivity as compared to onsite work.
Last August, I shared a hostel room with a bright 20-year-old hacker. He spent most of his time in front of a computer screen and occasionally went out to get lunch or dinner. He mostly worked from him but wanted to work in a physical office to learn more about data visualization.
Give Marissa Mayer a break. Working from home is good but not all that it is made out to be.