Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney weighs in: the impact of telecommuting is uncertain
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines recently when she declared the company would be instating a ban on telecommuting this summer to increase productivity among workers. The announcement came as a surprise for many, as Mayer herself is a new mother.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” wrote Mayer in the memo sent to Yahoo employees. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, representing New York’s 12th congressional district, has long been pushing for a better balance among work and home life for employees, arguing this improves workers‘ efficiency and quality of life. Maloney has sponsored legislation that would give workers more flexibility, in contrast to Mayer’s decree.
“With more and more women in the workforce, we need more family balance,” said Maloney. “In many cases women still have the responsibility of running the family and taking care of everything.”
The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act of 1993 (FMLA), signed into law by Bill Clinton, was one of the first pieces of legislation on which the Congresswoman voted. It allows workers to balance workplace needs with the demands of home life.
“People always congratulate me on that and thank me for that,” said Maloney of the bill.
The Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act of 2011, sponsored by Maloney, aims to expand the FMLA to allow employees to take additional leave, including attending children’s educational and extracurricular events.
According to The Economist, while some have come out in support of Mayer’s decision to nix telecommuting, others, like Sir Richard Branson, a British entrepreneur and founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, staunchly disagree with the choice and its implications. Branson reportedly wrote on his blog that Mayer’s decision was “a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
At a time when Yahoo’s CEO is condemning the flexibility of working from home for its effect on the company, Maloney maintains a work/life balance is essential.
“One of the bills I really love is the Working Families Flexibility Act,” she added. “This would guarantee workers the right to request flex time. The employer can still say no but it at least gives the employee the chance to ask.”
“There have been studies that people with flex time are more productive,” explained Maloney. “People go through times in their lives where they need more flexibility.”
She added, “If you have a sick child or parent and you could work some at home, that would be helpful.”
One bill supported by Maloney that has passed the house but not the senate is the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2011.
“We are alone among industrialized Western countries,” said Maloney. “They all support leave for having a child. We’re in the company of countries like Lesotho.”
Also, according to The Economist, telecommuting is a fairly common practice around the world these days. It reports on a recent survey of 24 countries which found one fifth of those surveyed “telecommute frequently” and seven percent worked from home daily.
Still, the Congresswoman conceded striking a balance is not always so simple and the flexibility a worker needs might not be ideal.
“People have to run a business,” she said. “If you can’t do the work, people have the right to say you can’t do the work. Some offices require people to be there.”
“But if flex time is workable and your assignment is research, for instance, and you don’t have to be in the office, it can work.”
Ultimately, Maloney believes greater flexibility for workers is “not the answer, but a tool.”
“[The U.S.] is not family friendly in terms of laws,” she said. “We could do a lot more to be supportive of families.”
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