“Work from home” is a convenience, but doesn’t replace being there
Do you remember the TV commercial for an airline a few years ago in which a corporate boss ordered his staff to travel and visit the clients – and handed out plane tickets to make his point?
To be fair, the airline was trying to encourage business people to travel. But the message that teleconferencing and working remotely will never completely replace real life interaction with colleagues and clients is an important one.
I see this first hand in my job in the newspaper business where it is common for reporters, photographers and editors to work from home on occasion, but still consider the newsroom to be home base.
Why am I jumping into this topic on the budget blog? Isn’t the fact that Yahoo is ending its “work from home” option more of a topic for the tech writers such as Mashable or perhaps the women’s lifestyle writers?
Not necessarily. There also is a lot of “work from home” chatter in the frugal and financial genres as those who have family responsibilities also seek out ways they can bring more cash into the household.
I remember a conversation that a Michigan couponer started on her Facebook page some time ago asking about “legitimate work from home” ideas and the lengthy discussion that resulted as readers voiced their frustrations in trying to find those options.
Keep in mind there also is a strong tradition in southeast Michigan of moms taking on home-based businesses or working part-time while the dads earned a paycheck in the automotive factories. The work shifts at the factory jobs do include odd shifts or overtime on short notice.
So what’s my take on this situation?
I love being able to work from home when needed. I’m doing that probably five or six hours a week for reasons that include the fact that breaking news doesn’t follow business hour schedules and I am on the newspaper’s social media team.
To be fair: breaking news has long resulted in at least a flurry of phone calls from home on behalf of the journalists who will be working on those pieces. But I also asked permission from a previous employer in the late 1990s to actually file city council stories from home because I was running into babysitter problems.
I had the computer, email and fax machine with which I could write my stories at home. If that was acceptable, I could put my daughter to bed and relieve the babysitter at 9 p.m. instead of at 11 p.m. when either my husband and I would be off work.
Interestingly enough for a newspaper whose staff now does a lot of work from home or an office in another city, the answer was no.
I did it anyway a couple of times.
Fast-forward to my current job at The Monroe Evening News: if there are circumstances in which a task needs to be done at home, or after business hours, the newsroom staff is allowed to do that as long as our respective deadlines are met. New technology, including the assignment of laptops to reporters about a year ago, has made it easier than ever to collaborate and work from multiple locations.
But I would never expect that my job could be done from home on a full time basis.
There are times when you need face to face contact.
Here is one example:
I have a story scheduled for today’s newspaper involving a Monroe boy who has a rare medical condition and a care package that is traveling from one family to the next whose children have the same disorder.
The family contacted us by email that included an Internet link about the project. I followed up with another email and a phone call.
But the photographer and I understood the traveling care package project much better, and the boy’s medical condition that is the underlying story, when she and I physically visited the family’s house a couple of days ago.
And although the photographer and I had back-to-back appointments with the family rather than a joint appointment, she and I discussed the assignment in more detail the next day when both of us were in the newsroom.
We probably would not have had that random follow up conversation via our email or Facebook connections. But I saw her across the room and delivered a message for her from a reader on another story we worked on this weekend.
And then we started talking about today’s story.