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Three Reasons You Shouldn't Work from Home

Vivia Chen

March 4, 2013

© Scott Griessel - Fotolia.comLast 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?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected] 

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Comments

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While it may be a stretch to say that this trend at one company (in a different country no less) is true across the board, I agree that it does make sense. It seems that working from home is better for quality of life rather than career advancement.

I spent 10+ years as General Counsel of a multinational public company where "showing up" was optional. Those people who didn't understand the importance of the "water cooler" (and, of course, the "kiss up") suffered accordingly. http://www.mentorist.co

Although I am an advocate for working from home for certain types of businesses, there is one more reason why it can be detrimental to career promotion and growth. This reason has nothing to do with being in the office – but rather being out of the office. If networking and client development are crucial to your job, then it’s beneficial to be in the office; you would likely be closer to the venues to participate actively - and more likely to do so. Otherwise, you have to make a special effort to go out and drive to do these activities anyway.

Honestly I don't understand the Hubub about the decision to end telecommuting. She's the CEO, if she thinks it's best then that's what needs to happen. She didn't get hired to give back scratches and make soup, she got hired to increase productivity and profit. I think if a man had made the call there wouldn't be as much discussion about it. I heard someone say "working from home doesn't create
managerial problems, it exposes them", which I think it pretty accurate.

I think that working remotely FT is risky if you are an anomaly in your office. However, having the flexibility to work remotely 2-3 times per work can be tremendously beneficial to employees, especially working moms. However, it can also benefit employers by promoting employee loyalty and decreasing attrition. I think that Yahoo! Inc. made a big mistake.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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