Yesterday my contact at the Globe asked me to write something about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to scrap the company's teleworking policy. The final product is here.
The novel part of the article is that it fact checks some common pressumptions. Actually, men are more likely to telecommute than women (in Canada - in the US the numbers are more evenly split, and different surveys give different results). Parents aren't any more likely to telecommute than non-parents. So with that in mind, I wrote:
Ms. Mayer may be seen by some as trampling on women’s legitimate desires for work-life balance. Yet there is an alternative story that could be told. In both Canada and the U.S., the typical telecommuter is a management or professional worker with a university degree. Perhaps Ms. Mayer’s initiative is aimed at preventing mostly male, telecommuting software engineers from delegating all administrative jobs to mostly female, work-in-the-office administrators and managers?
The article comes across, I think, as fairly supportive of Ms Mayer. This may seem as gross hypocrisy coming from someone who regularly works at home in her pyjamas, but let me give you some context.
Last week I had lunch at Nuffield College, Oxford. It was a wonderful experience. All the members of the college - faculty, graduate students, administrative staff - roll up some where around lunch time and help themselves to a free all-you-can-eat-buffet. They sit together on long wooden tables and talk about everything under the sun - from hitchhiking adventures to the latest research projects to academic politics to philosophy. Intellectual bliss.
Yesterday I checked my facebook page and saw the picture an undergrad buddy and fellow economist had posted of his lunch - two hard boiled eggs and a cup of coffee, to be eaten alone in his office. That was on my mind when I wrote this:
Most studies of telework do not account for the impact telecommuters have on other employees. A secret pleasure of telecommuting is avoiding colleagues. As the title of one scholarly article puts it: “Why Teleworkers are More Satisfied with Their Jobs than are Office-Based Workers: When Less Contact is Beneficial.” An even greater benefit is avoiding meetings. Yet while the teleworker who avoids meetings entirely – or who attends via conference call, puts the phone on mute, and spends the meeting catching up on email – is doubtless highly productive, her behavior will impact other workers.
And also this:
When a collegial, creative, sensible or helpful person comes into the office, he or she creates positive externalities – unpriced benefits – for co-workers. When that person stays at home, they produce negative externalities – a closed door, an empty space, a crackling conference call connection. The classic economic solution to externalities is to subsidize positive externalities and tax negative ones. Yahoo has done already tried to encourage people to come into the office with subsidies in the form of free lunches.
I don't ever read the comments on the Globe and Mail website, but if you'd like to comment here, I'd welcome feedback.