From the uproar, you’d think Marissa Mayer had mandated incest among all Yahoo! employees. In many people’s eyes, her edict that employees show up at the office was nearly as bad.
I’m aware of all the arguments for why the Yahoo! CEO’s demand is a terrible idea – and for why it’s a terrific one. By now, more than enough print and screen space has been used for beating this horse.
But, before we give it a decent burial, let me share some thoughts based on my career at a company where “showing up” was optional.
[People who worked at this company were in charge of their own “when, where and why”: At any job level (including secretarial) they could work from any location (never mind that the company’s nearest office was thousands of miles away) for any reason (like skiing? – well then, move to Alta and work from your dining table).]
Setting aside the impact that these “living arrangements” had on the company’s financial results, let’s look at the individual career impact of a decision to work remotely:
1. Clichés stem from truths. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché.
When you’re not physically present in the office, you’re also not “top of mind” for your manager or colleagues. Even if they know you’re working offsite, they’ll often hesitate before getting in touch with you and may, instead, opt for bouncing that new idea off (or giving the plum assignment to) your colleague who’s within line of sight. People tend to do what’s easy. Getting in touch with someone in the same physical space is easy.
2. People who work from home take longer to get promoted.
Or don’t get promoted at all. A corollary of Point #1….
3. Working from home can be better than not working at all.
Perhaps you can’t physically work from your company’s office, because of medical or caregiving demands. Finding a way to work remotely – rather than stopping out completely — will keep you in the game and make it easier to resume a full-time, on-site career.
During this “remote” period, just be sure to take as many opportunities as possible to physically show up at the office. Go to that departmental meeting. Meet your boss in the office for monthly status updates. Find face time.
4. The more specialized (or in demand) your skills are, the less you risk by working from home.
It’s all about who’s got the power. If you find yourself in a job where many others could be hired to fill your position, get thee to the office.
5. An occasional day spent working in isolation can be good for you – and for your company.
Showing up at the office can be a reenactment of that “I Love Lucy” candy factory episode, where Lucy and Ethel are assigned to a conveyor belt run amok. If you’re on a critical project that requires a solid block of “think” time, consider working remotely for a day or two, if that’s what you need to meet your deadline.
But don’t do this often. And take a hard look at your project management skills: What caused that time crunch in the first place?
6. The best managers “manage by walking around.”
”If your job involves managing other people, then it’s even more important for you to show up at the office. People stay calm when the captain stays with the ship.
7. The proverbial “water cooler” is where careers – and friendships — get made.
I once worked with someone who became executive vice president, having started out on the company’s front desk. He had several talents, but his biggest involved moving cross-country to whatever office the current CEO chose as company headquarters. (He added “sprinkles” by buying a house within two miles of the CEO’s residence.) A term for this behavior would be… well, let’s stay on course.
The point here is that it’s good to be seen — early and often — by those who wield the power.
It’s also good to be seen by others who don’t. At each place I’ve worked, I’ve developed deep and lifelong friendships through spending time with coworkers who began as strangers. These ties wouldn’t be nearly as enduring if we hadn’t seen each other — day-in and day-out — for months on end. Say what you will, Facebook can never beat face time.
So, in my book, both Woody and Marissa have it right: 80% of success is showing up.