Telecommuting: Steady growth in work-at-home culture, Yahoo or not
Telecommuting is a rapidly growing work-life style. Yahoo's recent ban of remote work sent a wave of concern through white-collar legions who consider themselves fortunate – and more productive – working in pajamas at home or holed up in a Starbucks cafe.
The "office" is a mutable concept for Joy Hahn.Skip to next paragraph
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Her typical workday starts early, in the tidy spare bedroom of her suburban Silicon Valley home, tapping out the first e-mails of the day. Then it's off to her mobile office, the family's light tan Cadillac STS – neat and clean aside from the presence of a few Mad Libs pads, because Ms. Hahn often drives clients. She keeps pens and notepads stowed in the glove compartment and memo pads in the trunk. Hahn takes the first call of the day in the car, on the way back home after dropping her 11-year-old daughter off at school, picking up dry cleaning, and buying groceries for her mom.
As business development manager for Cornerstone Technologies, a data archival and protection company in Campbell, Calif., just a few miles from her house, Hahn spends much of her time in meetings, virtual and real, organizing events, seminars, and webinars. She's also on the road a lot, meeting with clients. Work, for her, happens just about anywhere. When she runs out to take her mom to the doctor, she works from the waiting room on her iPad; at her daughter's singing lesson, she's on her laptop. She even works while driving, using Siri on her iPhone to dictate e-mails or create calendar appointments.
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Hahn has telecommuted 50 percent of the time for the past five years, videoconferencing and Skyping her way through the day while squeezing in loads of laundry, dinner prep, errands, and soccer practices. For Hahn and lots of other professionals – especially working parents – it's often the best possible scenario.
"Life happens," she says. "I can be a mom and a caregiver, but pick up working anytime and anywhere I need to."
And that may actually be one of the downsides. Because when Hahn works at home, the reality is that she often plows the time she's saving by not commuting or chatting at the water cooler back into her work. She sometimes feels a little guilty answering e-mails or doing prep work long after her husband and daughter are home: "Work-life balance is definitely a challenge. My husband is good at giving me verbal reminders though, saying 'OK you're done. It's our time now.' "
With all its pluses and minuses, Hahn's telecommuting is an example of a lifestyle-career meld that has been touted as the wave of the future ever since personal computers began appearing in offices in the 1970s. While under a quarter of the workforce telecommutes regularly now, there was a huge outcry when Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer banned working from home, saying the struggling company could use the solidarity of employees working side by side. (Last week, some critics were mollified by Yahoo's announcement of a new extended parental leave benefits program.)
Though the numbers vary, it's clear that there has been a growth spurt of telecommuting in the past decade. On the low end is US Census data that shows telecommuting to be up 35 percent between 1997 and 2010, with 13.4 million of the 143 million Americans in the labor force working at home at least one day a week.