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MCLEOD: Why working at home isn't the problem (or the solution)

Lisa McLeod

Lisa McLeod

People often ask me how I can work from home. They say, "I'd be so distracted. I would have a hard time not watching TV or doing the laundry."

All I can say is, you must not like your job. I have the opposite problem. I work until all hours of the night, holed up in my home office when any sane person would have long gone home.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ignited a media/Internet storm when she announced that Yahoo employees could no longer work from home.

The work/life balance advocates were outraged, accusing Mayer of taking a step backward by revoking flexible work arrangements. Academics cited research about how working together side by side with colleagues boosts creativity and morale.

I think we're side-stepping. If we want to have a meaningful debate about work, life, family and productivity, we need to be honest.

Here are five uncomfortable truths we need to start talking about:

  1. Some people are slackers.

We're supposed to pretend that with the right leadership and enough autonomy people will rise to the occasion and become star performers. But this is not true.

Some people just don't want to work. They will watch TV or play Angry Birds every chance they get. That's why they need an office.

  1. Peer pressure (and presence) improves performance. Imagine doing a spinning class alone in front of a home video. Now imagine doing it with an instructor surrounded by your peers. Where would you work harder? If your treadmill is functioning as an expensive clothes hanger, you know the perils of trying to go it alone. Peers prompt you to up your game and provide a model for what good looks like.

  2. Working from home can make you more frazzled, not less.

The work-from-home fantasy is your smiling kids drifting in while you work at your neat orderly desk. The reality is, you ignore your kids while you do conference calls, you eat lunch at your desk and your family steals your office supplies. Working from home doesn't always allow better "balance." You're often only halfway present for everything. If you have a family, you feel constantly pressured by both jobs, because they both reside in the same building.

  1. If you work 80 hours a week, you can't do much else.

I know we're supposed to be able to have it all, but let's get real. If you want to be an engaged parent (or spouse, or pet owner, or gardener for that matter) you can't work killer hours week in and week out. Working from home does not make a demanding job any less demanding, it just enables you to do it while your kids watch TV in the other room.

  1. You can't create a culture if no one is there.

Mike Alvear, a consultant and author who has worked at home for a decade, says, "It's extremely difficult to stay connected to people when you only have email and phone. Any company that wants to scale its culture can't do that if everyone is at home."

I've worked on the Apple campus. It's exciting because of the collective energy of the people who are there.

I've both loved and loathed working from home. Working from home is neither the problem, nor the solution. Creating great work and creating a great family require the same things: time, space and working together.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books including "Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud."