Okay, I admit it: I telecommute. I also know many telecommuters, and even have another family member who participates in that practice at least four days a week.
Until now, in my mind, this has not been a source of shame. Last week's announcement by Marissa Mayer
, the CEO of Yahoo
and former VP of Google
, has tried to change that perception by making statements that telecommuting is bad for the company. She has canceled the ability of Yahoo employees, all of them, to work from home. That edict was issued despite the fact that she had used that telecommuting policy to her advantage earlier in her Yahoo career when giving birth to a baby. Her status in the company later allowed her to build a nursery next to her office, so caring for the child during the day did not require her to stay at home.
I should also reveal that I was not a big fan of telecommuting when I was first employed as an executive in government agencies. Part of my attitude was probably due to the fact that I was raised in an earlier era, when telecommuting did not exist.
Despite that earlier opinion, I did eventually learn that there were many employees for whom telecommuting was the best choice. They had jobs that did not require them to interact with the public on a regular basis, and the research reports that they were engaged in writing could be researched on the Internet and written most effectively in the peace and quiet of their home environment. None of those employees worked fulltime from home, so we made sure to schedule staff meetings and office parties around their scheduled days in the office.
My fellow bloggers and freelance writers probably share my opinion that our form of telecommuting is important to us. The publications or organizations we write for are located hundreds or thousands of miles away from our homes, so an actual commute is out of the question. We have set up our home offices to be most effective for meeting our needs, including installing assistive technology when necessary, and background noises or distractions are minimal or nonexistent. That allows us to produce these documents that you are reading here today, without wasting time getting dressed for the office or traveling back and forth to work each day.
Apparently Yahoo had a large number of telecommuters that were rarely monitored and, in doing their research prior to ending telecommuting, managers discovered that employees who they thought were no longer with the company were actually still employed and getting paid even though fellow workers didn't even know they existed. To me, that sounds like a managerial problem instead of a telecommuting issue.
While Yahoo is only one company, its status as one of the largest IT firms means that many of its competitors are probably watching to determine if they should implement similar bans on telecommuting. One of the strategies behind the Yahoo ban was apparently to bring about the resignation of those telecommuters who did not want to travel to the company's offices each day. It was felt that resignations would take place so that it would not be necessary to lay off employees, with the related severance packages or increases in unemployment compensation insurance that such firings would trigger. That seems to be a unique but unhealthy approach to downsizing.
More is at stake here than the ability of some highly paid Silicon Valley employees to work from home. Many people with disabilities benefit from the ability to telecommute, as it allows them to be competitive in the world of employment without actually having to endure the rigors of traveling to an office each day. Preserving the right to telecommute is critical to perhaps thousands of these individuals.
If other companies and agencies began following the Yahoo example, it could become necessary for every employee whose disability requires the ability to work from home to seek permission to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation instead. That may sound easy, but getting a reasonable accommodation request approved is a much more involved process than simply blending in with the rest of the staff--with or without disabilities--who are telecommuting.
An even bigger problem could lie ahead. Federal and state government agencies have been the leaders when it comes to providing the accommodations that a person with any type of disability might need to perform in the workplace, including telecommuting. I don't anticipate that they will suddenly follow the Yahoo example, but this is the kind of issue that some well-meaning member of Congress or a state legislature might slip into a bill as a cost-saving measure designed to downsize the government work force and thus control spending.
If that should happen, the progress we have enjoyed gaining access to the workplace since the Americans with Disabilities Act
employment provisions went into effect could be reversed in a very short time. Let's hope not.
© 2013 Michael Collins