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Making Teleworking Work

Marissa Mayer’s decision to end Yahoo!’s telecommuting policies has kicked up a decent controversy, with many criticizing her for instituting a change they see as especially hostile to working mothers. Into the fray steps Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose recent article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was also much discussed. Writing for The Atlantic, Slaughter defends Mayer’s decision. She calls her a “CEO first and a woman second,” and explains that she is trying to address an abuse of Yahoo’s telecommuting policy:

Mayer is trying to rebuild a sense of common enterprise. The memo she sent out to employees said: “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” Even strong supporters of flexible telecommuting policies worry about what the Boston Globe‘s Beth Teitell calls the “team dynamic.” […] Connecting directly with each other face to face is energizing and mobilizing in ways that asynchronous communication cannot match. We spark off each other and when we have the right environment and the right leaders, we sub-consciously align ourselves as part of a common enterprise.

Slaughter raises an important point, one that we ourselves here at Via Meadia have run across as we put this publication together across (currently) three different cities. Face time is invaluable, and we try to get everyone in the same room as much as time and budgets allow. And when we can’t, we teleconference and group chat to keep that “spark” going.

It’s true that telework is still in its infancy. Employers haven’t yet discovered how to ensure that their employees remain productive and motivated by one another while working from home. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. There is a lot of work to be done before we can capture telecommuting’s immense potential to enrich lives. Experiments need to be performed, and they won’t all be successful.

We hope people like Slaughter will focus on getting foundations, universities, and governments to devote significant resources to the kind of research that can help us figure out how to make this vital building block of the new American social model work.

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