Marissa Mayer, the woman who became CEO of Yahoo while five months pregnant, made headlines again over the weekend for telling her employees that she was doing away with telecommuting and everyone must learn to come into the office.
The consensus seems to be that this is a huge blow for working parents.
Personally, I think working away from your kids is much easier than trying to get anything done with them right in front of you, but that's me. Nobody should be able to tell another person how they work best.
Every time the question comes up of how to make the workplace more family-friendly, I am conflicted. I want to say that working mothers can compete in the current work environment but I also know there are few examples of this at my old job. I wanted to be the exception, but I was laid off shortly after my first maternity leave and never given the opportunity.
The day after I was let go, I booked a freelance gig, and continued to book them as I looked for full-time work. The freelance allowed us to keep our nanny and I slowly realized the benefits of working for hire, especially since my husband could put me on his insurance.
I have been working freelance for almost three years now. It equates to roughly 70% of the time I spent at a full-time job and pays almost equally. I work from home or at an office, depending on the project, which I am always free to turn down. If I ignore the stress of constantly having to find new jobs, it's a pretty great set-up for a parent.
The biggest drawback is that I no longer feel like I am on a long term career track. And I still wonder every day what would have happened if I never got laid off.
Now I have a three year-old and a three month-old and I have just recently gone back to work for the second time. I took my first at-home freelance job a few weeks ago when Harlow was almost 3 months because I thought working from home would be a good transition to working at an office.
Even with a nanny, I had a really hard time getting anything done during the day.
If I'm home working while Mazzy is having a tantrum because she doesn't want to eat her lunch and Harlow is crying because she's hungry, I find it impossible not to step in and help out.
If Mazzy is banging on my closed bedroom door while I'm on a conference call, and our nanny is busy putting Harlow down for a nap, it's not only hard to concentrate— it's heartbreaking.
I am constantly telling Mazzy I don't have time to play or praying Harlow won't wake up. I'm hiding in the bedroom with my laptop hoping Mazzy won't remember that I'm there when she gets home from school. I'm running off to work at Starbucks between Harlow's feedings.
Working from home makes me feel like both a terrible worker and a terrible parent.
Last week, my at-home freelance job ended and I started a new freelance job in an office. I can't tell you how much more productive I am while I am there. Not only am I undistracted, but I don't have to feel the sensation of constantly abandoning my children.
If I go away to an office for the day, I feel a little guilty when I leave in the morning and then it's done. If I work at home, I feel guilty every fifteen minutes.
I actually think it's worse for Mazzy to see me at home and know I don't have time for her than to wave goodbye in the morning and welcome me back at 6pm. And from what I can tell, things go more smoothly with the nanny when I am not an option for the girls.
I'm not saying this is the same for everyone but working at home is not the answer for me. The experience made me start thinking about looking for a full-time job again.
But then I had to remember, even though I am in an office, I am not a real employee. As a freelancer, I don't have to show my face first thing in the morning or make sure the higher-ups know I have been working late at night. I'm not expected to travel or go to group brainstorms on the weekend or client dinners instead of spending mealtime with my girls. Nobody questions a mid-day trip to the pedicatrician or my decision to leave promptly at 5pm.
I just have to get the job done.
That should be the most important thing about finding a solution for working parents. Judge them by their work and not by how they get it done. Give them the opportunity to work where they are most effective. If that place is a coffeeshop a few blocks from home so they can avoid a two hour commute that translates to missing bedtime with their kids, so be it. If a mother needs to be there when her kids get home from school but can work twice as efficiently knowing her time is limited, let her.
In my experience, the people who spend the longest hours at the office are not always the people doing the best work. Often, they just don't know how to properly manage their time. If there's anything being a working parent teaches you, it's time management and efficiency.
I don't know what the circumstances were that led Marissa Mayer to her decision.
But I know one of the reasons I got laid off from my old job was because a new person was put in charge who wanted people at the office around the clock. He liked how the office looked at 9pm with everyone still at their desks and believed people worked better together than they did on their own.
Well, that's not true for me.
I am not the vocal person in a group discussion. I am the mother sitting alone at her computer late at night after the kids have finally gone to bed, banging out her best work.