March 2, 2013

A turning point for telecommuting?

After Yahoo's decision to end the practice, Maine telecommuters see both sides in a debate about the viability and value of working from home.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Telecommuting

Do you agree with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to eliminate telecommuting?

Yes

No

View Results

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Mike MacDonald, a software engineer, works at home in Cape Elizabeth on Friday. A telecommuter since 2005 for a company based in California, MacDonald acknowledges, “sometimes there’s no substitute for hashing things out together on a whiteboard and solving a problem.”

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Don Mackenzie of Cape Elizabeth says his work from home for a technology company in Massachusetts is more productive than if he were in an office.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Noonan is an associate professor at the University of Iowa and Glass is a professor at the University of Texas.

Yahoo issued a statement saying its decision may not be right for every company. "This isn't a broad industry view on working from home -- this is what is right for Yahoo, right now," it said.

In fact, Yahoo's decision goes against indications of a trend toward more telecommuting.

The Families and Work Institute's 2012 National Study of Employers showed that 63 percent of employers now allow at least some of their employees to work part of their regularly paid hours at home on an occasional basis, up from 34 percent in 2005.

Child care isn't the only driving force behind telecommuting, the researchers found. Parents are only slightly more likely to telecommute than non-parents, the study showed.

Sixty-seven percent of men occasionally work at home during regular work hours, compared with 59 percent of women.

Telecommuters have varied reasons for wanting to work from home.

Judy Berk, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, works from home a few days a week to "reduce wear and tear on me and wear and tear on the planet and the community."

In addition to reducing fuel consumption and saving money on the commute between her home near Belfast and her office in Augusta, working from home some days lets Berk tackle projects that demand solitude.

"The peace and quiet at home allows me to do more thinking without interruptions. It's good sometimes to be able to hole up and think," said Berk, who has been telecommuting for 22 years. "I'm equally productive in a different way. Some projects are better done at home. And because technology has changed so much, I can do anything -- webinars, conference calls, video conferences, emails."

Whether workers are at home or at the office doesn't matter as much as their levels of dedication, said Smith, who works for the company in Wyoming. For example, an office-based worker might sit in front of his or her computer all day -- reading gossip blogs rather than working.

"The right employees are going to be disciplined whether they work from home or at an office," Smith said. "If you provide a good work atmosphere, they're going to get their job done because they love their job."

Critics of Yahoo's decision complained that Mayer set a double standard as a working mother because she built, with her own money, a nursery next to her office so she could spend more time with her baby. Other working parents don't have that luxury.

"It's all just another slap in the face of hard-working women and men who are struggling to raise decent kids on incomes that have been stagnant for 30 years, while CEOs and financial-sector players make off with the lioness' share of the income pie," said Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine.

Mackenzie, who works at his home in Cape Elizabeth for Lionbridge Technologies in Waltham, Mass., said Yahoo's decision could have a chilling effect on other companies' telecommuting policies.

"Someone was waiting for the first company to make the change. Others may follow them," Mackenzie said. "It's a lot of work to manage a remote work force. You have to make more of an effort and stay on top of your team."

 

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

 

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Today's poll: Telecommuting

Do you agree with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to eliminate telecommuting?

Yes

No

View Results