Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, has ignited the prairie fire of a major controversy in the US by imposing a blanket-ban on the facility hitherto allowed to the company employees to work from home and ordering them to report back to their respective offices with effect from June 1.

Practices such as flexitime, telecommuting and working at home had become part of the organisational culture and acquired universal recognition as inviolable privileges in industrialised countries.

They were the outcome of a long battle for the right of employees to balance their duties and obligations to the organisations they served with their equally essential responsibilities as parents, spouses, householders and home makers.

If the pressure of the latter continued to weigh on the mind, it affected performance and productivity in office. Thus, the needs of the home had an intimate correlation with those of the workplace, and balancing both assumes great importance.

Women, in this respect, are under constant pressure, not just as housewives or home makers, but as home managers in the comprehensive sense. Home management is a seamless web and a classic lesson in fusion management calling for the harmonious blending of a bewildering variety of skills.

Whereas in the workplace, appraisal is periodical, at home, women, as managers, are subjected to scrutiny of their capacity to meet expectations every minute of the day.

With all this, they have also to serve as the support system for the families, bringing up kids, multi-tasking in the midst of resource and time constraints, and beset with tensions and crises of one kind or another.

Men, too, feel the compelling necessity to apportion the right share of attention to home and workplace, but for a different set of considerations.

There are any number of issues and dealings arising from running a household that fall customarily in men’s domain as part of the division of labour. If the other members of the family are under stress on any account, the men folk have to pitch in to solve the problem.

WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON

Such calls on men’s time and energy on the home front have increased enormously in the context of the worldwide phenomenon of both husband and wife going to work, with a view to either making both ends meet, or augmenting their earnings and savings in tune with their lifestyles or requirements, or putting to use any special qualifications that either of the spouses may have.

Flexi work practices were seen to be an answer to the situation created by these trends. A further argument in their favour was the flooding of the market with advanced technological applications such as tablets embodying features of a television, the computing power of a desktop or laptop, the communication reach of a smartphone and videoconferencing through Skype and FaceTime.

They have made possible mobility and portability, facilitating instant exchange and dissemination of ideas, views and plans, regardless of where one works from.

In fact, working from home had even come to be widely adopted in the Indian corporate sector as well. Such practices are needed all the more in India as the family environment here is actually far more exacting than in the West.

MOST STRESSED

A survey has found Indian women to be the most stressed in the world today.

Their difficulties are compounded manifold by the age-old religious prescriptions, social mores and cultural traditions.

The men too find their energies drained by the day-to-day hassles that confront them for getting even little things done for their households.

When it was taken for granted that flexi practices have come to stay, the Yahoo bombshell has had the effect of putting the clock back.

The head of the Yahoo Human Resources Department said that “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together…Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home…”.

In the vociferous debate that has ensued, the supporters of the decision surprisingly seem to have an edge over the opponents.

They feel that work-from-home robs the company of the advantages of face-to-face communication and collaboration among employees. Further, it is hard to know whether the employee is putting in his best.

It is altogether a healthy debate, in which the last word has not yet been spoken.

(This article was published on March 14, 2013)
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