Where We Work

work-from-home

A few months ago my 10 year-old daughter created a chart to track what all of the members of our family were up to each day. I was struck by the fact that in addition to activities like SOCCER, GYMNASTICS, SCHOOL and WORK, there was a category called WORK FROM HOME.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like much of today’s workforce, I’ve telecommuted in varying degrees for the past 15 years. There’s even currently a hit song titled “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony:

You don’t gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work
But you gotta put in work, work, work, work, work, work, work
You don’t gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work
Let my body do the work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work
We can work from home, oh, oh, oh oh
We can work from home, oh, oh, oh oh

You get the picture.

About 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week, a figure predicted to increase 63% in the next five years. When my kids were small I worked from home one day a week, a privilege of being a partner in a small business. Our babysitter still came on those days; there was no way I could juggle work and full child care responsibility at the same time. But I was able to spend some time with the kids, take them to doctor’s appointments, start dinner, and throw in a load of laundry or two.  I did my share of conference calls from the parking lot at Bed Bath & Beyond, but because I didn’t spend three hours commuting, running out for the occasional errand still gave me more solid “at my desk” hours than a typical commute day.

At a certain point I made the decision to stop working from home on a regular basis. I found it easier to get things done when I was in the office and could catch the production director in person to get a quick estimate rather than stalking her by email, or sit with a designer to look over his shoulder as we worked on a project together. I also had a lot of guilt on my WFH days. If I did something around the house, I felt like I should be working. If I was working, I thought I should be spending time with the kids. The last few years at my agency I stayed home only when I had an event (like a school concert in the middle of the day) and working from home gave me more productive hours than if I had schlepped into the city.

I found it annoying when people (including my husband) would ask, “Are you off today?” and I had to stress, “No, I’m working from home.” A WFH day isn’t a vacation day…or at least it shouldn’t be. As a manager, I did find that some people on our staff took advantage of our largesse and “work from home” turned into “work from the pool” or “work from the mall.” The key for managers and employees to agree about workday hours upfront and put their expectations in writing. Allowing employees to work from home or have flexible hours were benefits that didn’t cost us a dime, but engendered appreciation and loyalty from our staff.

 

When she joined Yahoo as CEO in 2013, Marissa Mayer famously (or infamously) banned working from home to encourage the sharing of ideas. I agree that while, “people are more productive when they’re alone…they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” But like Mayer herself, this policy didn’t quite catch on. Once employees are given a benefit it’s hard to take it away.

In Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality, Valerie Grubb notes that workers from different generations have different perspectives on working outside the office. Gen Xers like me, “…place a high value on their individual freedom (including setting their own hours and incorporating work-from-home options).” While Baby Boomers are more likely to want to keep their work at the office, “64 percent of Millennials would like to occasionally work from home…” Telecommuting employees have a longer, more productive workday than their office-bound counterparts. There’s no travel time, it’s quiet and there are fewer interruptions.

A Vice President of Human Resources at a pharmaceutical company, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me he’s a “big fan” of allowing employees to work from home as long as they’re reachable and the work gets done. “I do not think it should be every day,” he said, “as the collaboration factor is really important.” His viewpoint isn’t completely in line with his company’s corporate culture, however. While there’s no official policy on the matter and managers are allowed to approve working from home on a case-by-case basis, it’s frowned upon and most staffers don’t feel comfortable doing it very often.

The FWA (Flexible Work Arrangements) policy at a major consulting company includes flextime, job sharing, telecommuting/working from home, and reduced work/part-time options. Their goal is to create a culture that supports employees’ work/life balance and adds to diversity within the workforce. Perhaps most important, the official policy states that career advancement shouldn’t be impacted by employees’ use of FWAs. It’s crucial that management throughout the organization buys into the policy and doesn’t penalize their employees for utilizing it.

But there’s a downside to this flexibility. Because technology has allowed us to always be connected, people feel the need to be available 24/7/365. It takes some willpower to set boundaries for ourselves so that “working from home” doesn’t turn into “working all the time.” You’ve got to put down the cell phone and be totally present when it’s family time.

There are also social benefits of interacting with other human beings. Last spring I worked for an organization with a predominantly virtual workforce. When they’re not on-site with clients most employees work from their homes, saving the company a ton in overhead. While they utilized tools like Skype and Slack to assist with communication and collaboration, there was still an element of camaraderie missing.

Working from home hasn’t just reshaped the office, it’s reshaping our homes, too. Business is booming at retailers like Staples and IKEA that meet the growing demand for home office furniture and supplies. But what if you don’t have enough space for a desk, want to get away from that crying baby or annoying roommate, or need access to pricey office equipment?

The latest trend for consultants and entrepreneurs is co-working spaces like WeWork, which sells itself as not only a place to rest your laptop but a physical and virtual community. WeWork has 128 locations in 39 cities with plans to expand to every continent (except Antarctica) by 2017. Benefits for its members include access to health insurance, a social network, events and workshops.

While co-working spaces are a haven for freelancers and startups in cramped urban areas, I haven’t seen many people in the Serendipity Labs location in my suburban New Jersey town. Most people in the area have room in their homes for an office space and are content to decamp to the local Starbucks when they feel the need to flee the house. Serendipity Labs lists 9 company-owned and franchised locations on their website with over 100 under development. Their vision is “to provide premium, members-only workplaces with high performance meeting facilities at corporate standards.”

If a local co-working location isn’t hip enough for you, you can join the growing number of millennials who work anywhere in the world as long as they’ve got a laptop and Wi-Fi. Take Uber to your Airbnb in Tahiti and really leave the office behind!

Personally, I’m pro-choice. I believe it’s between an employee and his/her manager to agree upon an arrangement that meets both of their needs. Employers should empower their staff to be creative and build a supportive environment that increases employee satisfaction and productivity.

 

Roger’s Big Fat American Payout

“Gretchen Carlson Claims Victory for Roger Ailes Ouster: ‘Women Will No Longer Tolerate Sexual Harassment’.” Two weeks after she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former boss, Fox News Channel Chairman Roger Ailes, he resigned under pressure.

Gretchen may be celebrating but I’m mad as hell. Because along with his walking papers, Ailes is being handed a big fat payout of $40 million. His employer, 21st Century Fox, is even covering his legal expenses to fight Carlson’s lawsuit. Is this truly a victory? If someone deserves to be forced out, they do not also deserve to take home millions of dollars. The fact that fired CEOs are rewarded financially for their mismanagement is frustrating. The fact that Ailes is being paid a huge sum for his misbehavior is sickening. And he’s not even really leaving the company; he’ll remain as a consultant until 2018.

It has long been obvious that Ailes has a penchant for beautiful blondes. Just look at the female anchors on Fox News, or at his wife (who he started dating while she reported to him at NBC.) Once Carlson made her allegations public and Fox started its own internal investigation It quickly became clear that there was substance to them. Just like with Bill Cosby, after one woman was brave enough to speak out others started to do so. But instead of facing jail time like Cosby, Ailes’ “punishment” is receiving a consulting contract and millions of dollars from his employer. Sounds like a sweet retirement deal, not an acknowledgement of any wrongdoing.

In his statement, 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch praised Ailes’ performance and did not even mention the circumstances around his departure. So why is he really being stripped of his position? Rupert’s sons, executive chairman Lachlan and chief executive James, took advantage of Ailes’ fall from grace to get rid of him. This was the excuse they’d been looking for to wrestle control of the business from Ailes.

Failing to directly address the allegations against Ailes is disrespectful to the women who were subjected to unfair treatment and a hostile work environment. I hope Gretchen wins a bundle from her lawsuit. Fox’s actions resulted in a pyhrric victory for the accuser and a big fat financial windfall for the accused.

 

Women on My Mind

women illustration

I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately. Of course there’s Hillary Clinton, the first viable female candidate for president who’s ironically having a tough time getting the support of young women voters. Old school feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright aren’t helping with their comments, which are rubbing millennial women entirely the wrong way. Albright’s been saying, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” for years, attacking women who haze other women. These nasty chicks feel that since they had to fight their way to the top, and since there’s limited room for senior women in their given field, they’re not going to make it any easier for the women who follow them. But to young women who were born onto a still-imperfect but much more level playing field, it sounded like Albright was telling them to support Hillary just because she’s a woman…which to them is as bad as not supporting someone just because she’s a woman. Young feminists appreciate the historical significance of a potential female president but it’s more important to them to vote for a candidate on his or her merits, not his or her gender. Isn’t that really what we’ve been fighting for all along?

Another woman I’ve thought about is Jessica, who I worked with at the Grace Institute Brag Party last year. She and 104 other women just graduated from Grace’s intensive 5-month job readiness program. I was so proud of her when I received a LinkedIn notification that she got a new job as a receptionist at a law firm. Congrats to all of the @graceinstitute grads!

I’m tickled pink about the return of some of my favorite funny women on TV. Samantha Bee is killing it on TBS’s Full Frontal. Much has been said about the fact that she’s the only woman in late night comedy (which is a bit of a stretch; her show is on at 10:30pm, which is really prime time…but, whatever.) I hope whoever passed over her to replace Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show is looking at the ratings and realizing he made the biggest mistake of his life. I like Trevor Noah and think he’s doing a decent job, but seeing Bee succeed is sweet revenge for the sexism and ageism that prevented her from getting that promotion.

I can’t be too mad at Comedy Central, they did bring us Inside Amy Schumer. I was a fan long before Amy became a movie star and one of The Most Fascinating People of the Year. Amy’s right up there with Richard Pryor and George Carlin as one of the most daring and influential comedians of all time…not just one of the best female comedians. Now Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are back in season 3 of the hilarious Broad City. If you haven’t watched this show, run…don’t walk…to Comedy Central On Demand to catch up.

Speaking of women in TV, I want to give a shout out to my fellow Women in Cable Telecommunications NY chapter board members. @WICTNY has been working on a Leadership Series event titled, “Climbing the Corporate Ladder: How to Make it to the Next Rung” featuring a panel of four successful women at various stages of their careers. The event (to be held on February 29) sold out in record time and I was reminded of just how hard these volunteers work to put together helpful, meaningful programs. The benefits of WICT membership go way beyond what one can learn at our events, however. In Never Eat Alone: and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferrazzi touts the importance of networking and developing real, mutually supportive friendships for career success. As I’ve been reading the book I keep thinking how fortunate I am to have developed many great personal and professional relationships through WICT.

To keep abreast (pun intended) of all the news that matters to women I read the LZ Sunday Paper. There’s always terrific, thought-provoking content curated in former NBC exec Lauren Zalaznick’s weekly roundup of news, insights, arts and culture. Sign up at LZSundayPaper.com, it’s a great read.

Bragging with Grace

The conservative politicians and pundits who say that unemployed people are lazy and don’t really want to work haven’t met the ladies from Grace Institute. Grace “empowers unemployed and underemployed women in the New York area to achieve economic self-sufficiency” by providing “job-skills training, counseling, placement services, and continuous learning opportunities that lead to upwardly mobile employment.” There are approximately 1,000 inquiries for each 130 places in each class; 75% of the participants graduate; and 80% of the graduates are placed in full-time jobs within one year.

I had the pleasure of volunteering at one of these learning opportunities called a Brag Party. Executive Coach Peggy Klaus led a three-hour workshop on the art of bragging. “Bragging,” she said, “is just being proud of yourself.”

Bragging is something that does not come naturally to many women who’ve been trained by our culture to put the needs of others (kids, spouses, parents, team members) above ourselves and to be modest about our accomplishments. It’s particularly difficult for the women at Grace, many of whom are living on government assistance, are victims of domestic violence, or are recent immigrants.

Grace Institute was founded in 1897 as a free training program for women by W. R. Grace, an immigrant who made his fortune in shipping and was twice elected Mayor of New York City. Sounds a bit like an early Mike Bloomberg. The course offerings have evolved over the years from millinery and stenography to MS Office and interview skills, but the mission remains the same: to help women find work and support themselves financially.

I was at the workshop as a representative of the Women in Cable Telecommunications New York Chapter. In addition to supporting women within our industry, WICT NY is dedicated to helping underprivileged women and students reach their leadership potential. WICT NY sponsored the event and provided a number of volunteers. Many of the other volunteers were from financial services companies which also employ Grace graduates.

 

My partner for the day, Jessica, arrived in New York from Puerto Rico at age 19 speaking no English. She worked as a line cook and started to move up the ranks in the restaurant business but a back injury made it difficult to be on her feet all day. With a high school-age daughter to support, she turned to Grace for the training she needs to segue into a new career. She is bright, enthusiastic and presents herself very professionally; I have no doubt that she will graduate from the 6-month program and quickly land a job.

We participated in a series of exercises designed to make us more comfortable tooting our own horns and touting our successes. We had to learn that “Brag” isn’t a four-letter word. (Well, it really is a four-letter word, but not THAT kind of four-letter word.) One barrier to bragging is the fear of being a bad bragger: the kind of blowhard who talks incessantly only about herself, exaggerating her achievements and stealing credit from others. Good bragging was defined as talking about your accomplishments and value in a conversational way, weaving a few key points into a story delivered with a sense of urgency, excitement, and delight.

It was a thoroughly fun and fulfilling experience, and I’d venture to guess that I learned as much as Jessica did. Peggy is an amazing presenter and infused the room with the power of positive thinking and expression. Grace Institute gives these women the opportunity to succeed and I was thrilled to play a small role helping them achieve their dreams.