How Not To Get Promoted. Work From Home.

Much has been written about Marissa Mayer’s decision at Yahoo to bring teleworkers back to the office. Discussions have been crossed all forms of media, often referring to the decision as a “women’s issue”.

Teleworking is not a women’s issue. I’ve spoken with male software developers who find the idea of having to return to the office “ridiculous”. Other teleworking friends (both male and female), have been quick to list the multitude of software programs on the market that allow for a project to be managed and facilitated remotely. Many have talked of the benefits. Time saved by not having to travel to and from the office, along with real estate costs diminishing, we know the benefits.

It is not a women’s issue to require flexible work hours to allow for children to be collected from school. That’s a parents issue, something that parents need to work out together. Any parent knows from the moment a child arrives you have just entered into a very long and arduous game of “who’s going to hold the baby while I do this?” Parents need flexible working hours, not just women.

What might be the biggest issue in this discussion though, for both men and women, is the piece of the puzzle we’re not talking about. The fact that if you work from home, you’re less likely to be promoted.

A recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review talked of a joint experiment run by professors at both Stanford University and Beijing University, at Chinese Travel agency CTrip. The usual benefits of teleworking arose: faster, cheaper, more convenient for staff, but it was this finding from the study that caught my eye.

The Stanford study found that the rate at which home-based workers were promoted dropped by 50 percent, seeming to confirm the cliché “out of sight, out of mind.” That is bad for workers who are passed over, but it is also bad for employers because they might be wasting the talents of potentially great managers.

In 2007 I was working in what was considered a part-time role. When I say considered, what I mean by that is that at 8.30 in the morning after I had thrown my children onto the school bus, I would then drive at breakneck speed to be sitting at my desk at 9.00 a.m. I would then work throughout the day to make sure that anything that required being in the office was done e.g. interviews with candidates, client meetings and one-on-ones with co-workers and members of my team. At 3.00 p.m. I would then sprint to my car and drive once again at breakneck speed back to the school to pick up the children. Where was my husband? He was working at his highly inflexible full-time job, sometimes he was in the country, sometimes not.

I’d arrive home with the children at around 4 and we would embark on the what all parents recognise as the routine. After school activities, snacks, homework, play, dinner, bath and bed.

And then I’d start working again.

I’d spend up to two hours tucked away in the office at night, very happily working at sourcing candidates, catching up on administrations and shooting off emails to colleagues. I loved my job and it was lucrative for me to work those hours. I made a really healthy income for someone who was supposedly working “part-time” and I did well within the team. When our team grew we began to talk about the need for a management role.

“You know you’d be perfect for this, but obviously it would have to be full time” the VP mentioned over lunch. I understood. They were right, they needed someone who was available for an 8.30 a.m. meeting, someone who could travel interstate once a week, someone who could mentor and be available to go along to a last minute client meeting, or sit in on a tricky interview.

I immediately knew things had to change. I wanted that job.

At that stage of our lives, with the age of our children (4 under 7), there was no way I could have worked full-time without having a nanny, a school bus and a fantastic community of people around us. I chose to go back to work full time because I was incredibly ambitious, I didn’t want to see anyone else get that job. I believed I was the best person to do the job. I could have kept doing what I was doing, but it was clear there was no chance for promotion while I was part-time.

When debates are had about working from home it’s important to consider the Industry. Write from home? Sure. Develop Software from home? Absolutely. Managing Director? CEO? I’m not so sure. I think you might need to be at the office.

When we speak to our children whether it’s our daughter or son, about career choice, do we need to keep these things in mind? Independent workers can plonk a laptop anywhere, gregarious leaders may always be looking for a team to join.

If you plan to climb the corporate ladder, you may just need to head into the office to find it.

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