Last week, I criticized CEO Marissa Mayer's draconian ban against working from home for all Yahoo! Inc. employees. As someone who has personally fought this battle, I am absolutely convinced that having the ability to work from home makes me far more productive and less grumpy. Without the arrangement, I might have quit my job years ago, and you wouldn't be reading my rants. Think of the loss.
But as much as I'm an advocate for flexibility, I've always had a suspicion that there are career costs to working off-site.
Unfortunately, my hunch is right. According to a newly released study by Stanford and Beijing Universities, working from home benefits both efficiency and morale—but not the career prospect of the individual employee. The study finds that employees of a Nasdaq-listed Chinese travel agency who worked from home increased their performance by 13 percent and reported greater work satisfaction; this resulted in fewer turnovers. But here's the downside:
"Their promotion rate conditional on performance fell."
In fact, those who worked from home got 50 percent fewer promotions. It's a consequence of being “out of sight, out of mind,” says the report, noting:
Supervisors did not notice their performance as much and were less likely to promote them. We heard anecdotal evidence for this from employees and managers during focus groups and interviews, and it was one factor that led some employees to return to the office to avoid what they perceived as a WFH [work from home] promotion "discrimination" penalty.
I'm not surprised by that result. Truth is, there is valuable political capital that's lost when you are working from home. I can think of at least three opportunity costs:
1. You will miss out on synergy—or the appearance of it. Mayer cites the benefits of collaboration and "impromptu team meetings" as factors for forcing workers to go back to the office. Maybe those face-to-face encounters are essential to the creativity of Silicon Valley. Sadly, for lawyers and the rest of us who work mainly in solitude, collective genius is elusive. That said, corporate culture likes to pretend it's a real thing, so you'd better play along.
2. You will miss out on office gossip. I rank this as a compelling reason to hang around the office. You really need to be on the ground to find out who's in or out at the office. You don't want to find out about it when the press release finally comes out.
3. You will miss crucial opportunities to kiss up. Skillful brown-nosing is crucial in any field and the best reason to hang out at the office. To do this effectively, you have to pop your head into the boss's office often and shamelessly show your enthusiasm. Kissing up via email or the phone is just not the same.
What can I say? You might be far less efficient and productive if you have to show your face at the office daily. But efficiency and productivity are not the main points in winning the career game, are they?
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