Why I embrace a blended work environment

Not much makes me angrier than hearing that remote workers are not as productive or effective as those who go to the office every day.

I’ve been a part-time remote worker since 2000 when my then employer, in the midst of the dot com bubble, realized they could not continue buying expensive Silicon Valley office space to house their growing employee population and their ability to attract talent was hampered by commuting time in the congested Bay Area.

My company rolled out a carefully planned “flex worker” program and enticed early adopters with a company-paid cell phone, free wheeled briefcase, and reserveable “drop-in” offices located in prime location – along the windows. Curious about this new way of working, I was one of the first to sign up. Acceptance into the program was contingent upon completion of a short course in how to work – and most important how to collaborate – from home.

In the ensuing 12 years, and at two companies, I’ve worked remotely anywhere from 20-100% of the time. I’ve always been recognized as a top performer and, as I wrote a couple of years ago, I make a concerted effort to stay visible. Currently, I work 3,000 miles from company headquarters and from most of the people I interact with – both on my peer team and cross-functionally. Some days I work at my kitchen table and other days I drive for over an hour in heavy traffic to sit in a cubicle at the local office, but either way my location is transparent to my manager and colleagues. Several times a year I visit the corporate offices and sit among my team.

Working remotely, just as working in the office, has advantages and disadvantages. Putting the issues of work/life balance and flexibility aside, it’s my experience that a blend of remote and office work is ideal for “knowledge workers” like me and the folks at Yahoo!. For large technology companies like ours, it’s simply inevitable as our workforce is globally distributed. A sub-team that I’m a part of right now consists of me in California, a colleague in North Carolina, and another in New Zealand. There is no way we will be having hallway conversations!

When I’m working remotely, I have more control over my time. My colleagues and I use conference calls, online meeting tools, instant messaging, and email to collaborate. But I also have long periods of uninterrupted time to make progress on my projects. I’m not slowed down by the drop-in visitor who won’t leave or the cube neighbor who listens to his conference calls on speakerphone. No, I don’t have productive impromptu hallway conversations, but I also don’t get waylaid on a trip to refill my coffee mug.

Working in the office is productive in a different sort of way. It can be very energizing to sit among my colleagues, and when we eat lunch together it’s convenient to seek their advice on situations where I might not bother them otherwise. I acknowledge that having a face-to-face connection goes a long way toward building a relationship, and my presence confirms that I’m as committed to our team’s success as they are. But at the same time the day quickly slips away with lots of personal interaction and little time for quiet work.

Apparently a significant number of Yahoo! employees who work remotely are unproductive, maybe even hiding. By requiring every employee to work in an office, Yahoo! intends to enforce accountability. Perhaps even lazy remote workers will quit rather than report at the office. Honestly, I consider this a management fail on all accounts.

Putting aside the fact that Marissa Mayer is a woman and a mom, or that I’m a woman and a mom, it appears that not only did she make a confounding business decision but she didn’t market it well to already demoralized employees.

Is this, as some speculate, a way to reduce headcount without doing a layoff? I think we all know that employees who leave of their own accord are usually the A players, the ones who are being actively recruited and will quickly find new employment. The very unproductive, those who are hiding, will suck it up and continue to do mediocre work, all while poisoning the environment with their unhappiness. I’ve worked in this environment before. They need to be actively managed out.

Just three things are required to allow remote workers to be successful:

  1. The right technology/tools
  2. Commitment to the company’s success
  3. Accountability

I would expect that as a technology company, Yahoo!’s employees have leading edge collaboration tools. I think the crux of Yahoo!’s problems start at the top. Has the leadership created a compelling vision and strategy and communicated this effectively so that the employees believe they can contribute to success? Are middle managers managing effectively and holding their teams, in corporate offices and remote, accountable?

I truly want to see Yahoo! succeed. I want to see a young, high profile female CEO turn around an ailing company, and I dearly hope Yahoo!’s 11,000 employees will stay employed. Marissa Mayer made a big, bold move last week in the face of great criticism and I applaud that. I just think it was the wrong move.

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Overcoming the beauty and aging paradox

I’ve been composing my Dear John letter to More magazine in my head for the last few weeks.  I’ve subscribed to the magazine, originally targeted to women over 40, for over a decade.  But somehow I missed the memo, a few years ago, that the magazine was refocusing and “moving away from the idea that it is solely geared towards women 40 and older.”

Now that I have both feet solidly in middle age, it became apparent, as I thumbed through my stockpile of back issues during the recent long weekend, that in this magazine I thought was designed for me fully 70% of the women’s faces on the advertising pages are much younger than 40.  (Yes, I counted.)  So the beautiful smooth faces trying to sell me lifting and firming cream and hair color and other goods with names like “Youth Code” and “Slender Secret” did not reflect the, er, realities of their intended audience.

I’d also grown oh so tired of the relentless articles discussing the pros and cons of cutting edge technology for “looking better with age” – Botox injections, fillers, laser treatment, radio-frequency wave treatment, etc. I didn’t find the reminders of my inevitable physical decline and all the things I was not doing to stop it to be empowering.

But then this week, while browsing the December/January issue during my daughter’s volleyball practice, I was unexpectedly surprised to read some very excellent advice in what I thought was another predictable article on beauty and aging.  Psychologist and author Judith Sills eschews the idea of  “age appropriate”, and I can really get behind her perspective:

On the idea of mourning lost youth, her philosophy is to “look back but don’t stare.”

Sex, she claims, is “life juice” and she advises to “have as much sex as possible in any way possible.”

She considers cosmetics to be “an attitude enhancer”.

Her advice to women who are freaked out by their wrinkles is “stop thinking about yourself so much.”

“The more invested you are in life, the less worried you are about what other people think.”

So More magazine has, for the time being, redeemed itself with me.  I won’t move my Dear John letter from my head to keyboard for now, but I hope in 2013 to see a lot more such intelligent advice and less information on choosing the best plastic surgeon.

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A Stay Together Ride

This is so beautiful, what a kid!

Never Done It That Way Before

Insurance Ad, Boy in Bed

Hello there, dear ones.

I have missed you.  It’s been a heck of a month (or more).  It’s been Advent, and Christmas, and now it is flu season.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that the Big Bad Cold that has taken down the entire Cumings family just might be Influenza A.

So I am not quite ready to get back on the blogging wagon, but I am ready to reassure you that I am coming back.

And in the meantime, please enjoy this beautiful story.  Watch the whole thing.  If you’ve already seen it, watch it again.  Be warned; you might get something in your eye by the end . . .

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Reflections on the Epiphany

The icicle lights have disappeared from the rooflines of homes in our neighborhood; the streets are a little dimmer every day.  Yesterday I counted the denuded Christmas trees laying in the gutters, next to the garbage bins, in front of my neighbors’ homes. Although I’ve been back to work for a week, tomorrow my children return to school.

The holiday I anticipated for many months and love so much is behind us now.

This was a holiday of tradition. There are so many things our family looks forward to this time of year. Before the end of Thanksgiving weekend we cut down our tree, sucking on candy canes in the car on the way home. The girls enjoyed a tiny piece of chocolate, from their Trader Joe’s advent calendars, with breakfast each morning.  We checked the mailbox every day, hoping for a bounty of Christmas cards. We ate meatballs with dark gravy on Christmas Eve and stayed in our pajamas all day on Christmas.

This was a holiday of beauty. I don’t think our Christmas tree has ever looked as beautiful as it did this year. My husband outdid himself decorating the outside of our house with a straight line of big colored lights – the kind I remember from my childhood.  It made me smile every night that I arrived home after dark. We were battered by multiple winter storms in December, bringing us black skies and emerald lawns, and delighting the children with double rainbows in the morning on their way to school.

This was a holiday of giving. Our daughters enthusiastically purchased gifts for each other and for us, and their excitement about each carefully chosen gift was contagious. This year Christmas morning they were more eager to present the gifts they’d selected and wrapped than to open their own!

This was a holiday of receiving. Inspired by this post from the blog Gina left the mall, and being someone who is always ready for another cup of coffee, I made a donation to Cup of Joe for a Joe. A couple of days later, I started receiving email notes.  Troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan and Qatar were thanking me for the cup of coffee I’d bought them.  Every time a new note arrived in my inbox it was like receiving an early Christmas present, and I eagerly read each one to my daughters, my husband, my friends.

This was a holiday of reflection. After the horrific event of December 14, the world just seemed different. I, like so many others, felt that I had lost something. And I felt such acute gratitude – for my children and their joy of Christmas, their curiosity about Santa. For my ability to hear their laughter and to tuck them into bed at night.

Tomorrow morning I will pack lunchboxes with turkey sandwiches and apples.  My children will be happy to see their teachers and friends again, and they will bring homework packets home. We will start practicing the piano again and working on their science fair projects. But tonight is the Epiphany, and I’m appreciative of my gifts.

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Kittens and puppies

I may dream of a Christmas scene worthy of Martha Stewart, with kraft paper packages tied up with baker’s twine, but when you let your children choose the gift wrap, this is what you get.


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The colors of the season

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I heart u mom

Since I wrote about being over-extended a few weeks ago, I’ve been making an effort to pay more attention. When you are constantly multi-tasking, when you’re doing one thing while thinking about the next thing, it’s too easy to not see what you should see and not hear what you should hear.

Last night I’d been sitting at the computer late, looking through the Recreation Department’s winter activities catalog to find a fun class for one of my girls.  I’d been jotting ideas on a small sticky note pad that I left on the kitchen table. This morning, as she ran out the door to go to school, one of my girls called back over her shoulder “I left you a note on your computer!”

My girls leave me many messages of love in many ways.  I’m paying better attention.

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