Kohen on Yahoo’s Authoritarian turn

Ari Kohen has an excellent post today discussing Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s new policy prohibiting working from home:

I don’t even think about this issue from the perspective of someone who is devoted to family-friendly or feminist arguments (though these are not minor considerations by any means); for me, this is all about flexibility and productivity.

There are certainly some people who benefit from the traditional work environment and there are undoubtedly jobs where “being together” is important. But there are just as certainly some people who do faster and better work when they are in a different environment.

In my own case, there are some times when it’s absolutely critical that I’m physically present at work — either in the classroom, in my office, in a meeting. But there are other times when I benefit a great deal from being able to make use of technology and forward-thinking colleagues to work from home and participate in group work.

As an (obviously idiosyncratic) example (because my job is admittedly not a traditional office job): I’m currently involved in several collaborative research projects with other faculty members and with students. Occasionally, if our schedules allow, we’ll meet in person. More often, though, we’ll meet together on Google+ and share documents via Dropbox. It’s certainly nice to sit down together, but it’s absolutely false that doing so somehow produces better or faster work than meeting remotely.

Read the whole thing, etc. In addition to the obvious benefits for feminism and families, I would add the ecological benefits; driving is easily the most ecologically harmful activity most of us do in our day to day lives, and cutting down on commuting is one of the most obvious ways to reduce one’s environmental footprint. Kohen’s experience isn’t idiosyncratic; there’s evidence (follow the links in the second link) that flexible work arrangements and productivity gains go together. My own experience is a bit different; I don’t always find I’m more productive at home. I am occasionally prone to procrastination and time-wasting, and I often find the best way to address this problem is a change of scenery–from home to work or work to home or either to a coffee shop or the library. (Since I commute exclusively by bicycle, I suspect the productivity boost from a change of scenery may actually be a result of the 15-20 minutes of moderate exercise I get from changing location). But whatever: people respond differently to different environments distractions, the notion that taking away people’s ability to know an manage their own distractions is likely to improve productivity is transparently silly.

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