Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines recently when she ordered employees who had been working from home to start showing up at the office. She cited the benefits of collaboration and face-to-face interaction.
According to the American Time Use Survey—2010 Results, USDL-11-0919 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 22, 2011), 24% of employed Americans reported in recent surveys they work at least some hours at home each week.
The idea of working virtually, not commuting every day to an office where the interruptions and crises never end, is becoming more and more popular, though it may experience a slight hiccup in light of Yahoo’s ban of virtual work.
As Yahoo CEO, this shift is certainly within Mayer’s authority. Her job is to improve Yahoo’s bottom line and if she believes this move will do that, it is her responsibility to make it happen.
While Yahoo employees may not be happy with the decision, they do need to remember it’s not about them but, instead, about the company’s financial success.
Mayer’s policy may be right for Yahoo but not for everyone in the workforce, particularly those in the legal profession. The deciding factor should be the type of work being done at home.
Many paralegals are now working at least part of their week at home. Working from home allows them to set their own schedule, meet their family’s needs, and add balance to their lives. There is a savings of the time and cost involved with commuting, a professional wardrobe (who doesn’t dream of working in sweats and slippers?), meals and daycare.
This can be incredibly successful for paralegals. Why? When your work focuses on drafting pleadings, planning discovery, conversing with witnesses, or preparing for trial, your job is all about efficiency and productivity, not on innovation. This applies to paralegals in all facets of legal work, from mergers and acquisitions to estate planning and probate to corporate record keeping, etc.
Further, the paralegal’s work is measurable in that billable hour goals and deadlines must be met. With the technology available today, the difference between the paralegal working down the hall or the paralegal working 20 minutes (or 20 states) away is minimal.
Another point is that many paralegals interact with clients around the world, necessitating communications in multiple time zones. If you work for a large corporation in Delaware and you need to hold a conference call with clients in Dubai, it is difficult to make that work in the traditional law firm setting. It would not be difficult to make that effort from home while the rest of the family is sleeping. You would be clocking the same number of hours (perhaps more because of the minimization of interruptions) but in a different setting.
However, there is a lesson to be learned from Ms. Mayer’s message: working from home is not about you and making your life easier. It is about your employer’s bottom line. If you approach your employer about this work shift, do not focus on how nice it would be if you could be at home when your children get off the bus or when your spouse finishes his shift at 2:30.
Instead, be ready to prove that your working from home will be a benefit to your employer:
- You may get more done than if you had to get dressed, commute to the office, put in 9 hours, and commute back home.
- You may be more productive because extra time chatting with co-workers or being interrupted by co-workers will be practically eliminated.
- You will have long stretches of time to concentrate.
- The result will be increased profit to the firm and, perhaps, decreased costs. All you need is a good Internet connection and privacy and can be as productive as in the office.
Out of sight, out of mind? Working virtually can be a win-win situation for both you and your employer. There may also be a downside: if you are not meeting face-to-face with your supervising attorney and co-workers, will you be forgotten? Passed over for bonuses and raises? Hopefully not, but this may require some extra effort on your part to be sure you are still connecting and communicating with them. You must be willing to appear in person for client meetings when necessary, for strategy planning, and, of course, to assist at trial.
Working virtually is a trend that is here to stay. Employers are going to have to face this and make adjustments. You can advance this transition so long as you do not focus on you but are willing and able to demonstrate that this shift is in your employer’s best interests.
Do you work from home? How is that working for you? Do you see benefits for both you and your employer? Please leave a comment — I’d love to hear.