Even though I had just graduated with my BFA, my first real job out of college required me to ‘punch’ a time clock. I was designing products for a small porcelain manufacturer that held me to the same policies as the workers on the production lines. That experience, consciously knowing exactly when you are working and when you are not, has continued to be a strong influence on my paradigm for the workplace.
In various jobs since, I have enjoyed the increased independence and flexibility that one would expect today. So, the policy change at Yahoo, instituted by new CEO Marissa Mayer, has been something to which I’ve been paying a lot of attention. At a time when companies, especially creative and/or technology ones, allow for seemingly unlimited flexibility in regard to when and where an employee works, Yahoo has come full circle. See this editorial from the New York Times for more.
At the first job mentioned above, both the company culture and available technology were incompatible with working anywhere other than the office. My junior role in the organization and the desktop computer I needed to complete my daily tasks ensured that I was at the office 40 hours a week. I was eager and probably not that mature, so the structure of the office environment kept me productive and successful.
As a manager of a small team later in my career, I often struggled keeping things ‘fair’ in the group, including my own time. Accommodating the true needs of employees, especially those with family dynamics, while balancing all of the other wants, was a real challenge. To set a good example and keep things going smoothly, I spent a lot of time at the office and volunteered for the tasks that I knew were going to require the most hours. While it probably made things easier in the short term, it became a burden and especially hard to remove myself from that role as I wanted to pursue future opportunities. It also didn’t give the other team members as much opportunity to grow and mature.
With a boss that works three time zones away today, I am afforded ample flexibility to successfully complete my work as I see fit. As a colleague recently suggested “No one cares which 50 hours a week you work…” I probably average 30-40 hours a week in the office, supplementing the rest with travel, work from home in the evening, and constant contact via my smartphone. My mind continues to try to solve work problems, often subconsciously, long after I’ve left the office. I genuinely enjoy the constant stimulation of contributing to a 24x7 organization; technology allows me to participate from anywhere at any time. But I also find the office the most productive, both for my solitary work as well as the creative endeavors that can only be successful by collaborating with colleagues.
The Yahoo example seems a little extreme; trying to reinvigorate productivity by “fasting” to repent for past flexibility. Every organization will need to determine their own course through honest assessment of culture, function and maturity, leveraging technology as a means to their desired end. And as for punching a time clock, I think there’s now an app for that.
Image—Thinkstock: Photodisc, Ryan McVay