New Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has sparked outrage and open derision from technology professionals with her recently command that Yahoo! employees stop working from home and come into the office every day.
For workers in the service sector, this idea might make some sense:
After all, if you are working at a public desk or a restaurant, or working as a teacher or janitor, you have to come to work every day. What's so bad about that? If you can do it, can't a computer programmer or systems designer do the same?
Well, it's not that simple.
Labor conditions for software industry professionals -- and certain other categories of white collar workers -- have dramatically changed over the last fifteen years. Sure, some companies offer lavish facilities and on-site benefits for their workers. That's good. But it's not all good.
No, not at all.
The software industry once provided a variety of 9-to-5 jobs for people who were interested in computers and programming. These were pretty good jobs. But over time, for various reasons, these jobs have changed.
A 9-to-5 job in the software industry is now almost impossible to find.
This industry now, as a rule, pressures, coerces or even requires workers to put in far more than 40 hours a week. This isn't an exception. It's universal. Jobs that once had regular hours now come with the expectation that you'll work ten hours a day. Or more. Much, much, much more.
In fact, if you're not eating or sleeping, you're expected to be on the clock.
It's not uncommon for me to work 12 hours a day or more. Maybe 16. My colleagues pull overnighters at the office to meet deadlines, which are followed by more unrealistic deadlines with ever higher pressure.
As a concession, employers started offering workers the ability to work at home when they need to as a sort of escape valve from the incredible pressure and long hours that they required of them. It's much easier to work from 8:00 am. to 12:00 pm., which is not uncommon, if you can do it from your bedroom or home office.
Getting a plumber in to fix something? Work at home and you'll still be able to put in a ten hour day, with no inconvenience to your boss.
Telecommuting as a standard industry practice evolved as an acknowledgment that humans could only sustain these impossible hours if they were given some flexibility that allowed them to get human things done during the day.
Later, businesses discovered that they could save money -- sometimes huge amounts of money -- by getting rid of office requirements entirely.
Several years ago, my employer -- one of the biggest technology companies in the world -- shuttered our office and told us to work from home. (If we needed to be physically present on-site, we could hop it to another office nearby and use a hoteling station and conference rooms.)
But leave it to someone in a high-visibility job to decide that they want their cake ... and they want to eat it, too.
The pressure is on for Yahoo! employees.
They will certainly face longer hours, tighter deadlines and higher expectations.
And now they'll have to do it without the flexibility and escape valve provided by the option to work at home when they need to.