Yahoo! Now We Have To Re-Vamp the Work Wardrobe

Marissa Mayers in her work uniform...

Marissa Mayers in her work uniform…

Me at work, and the guy in the next cubicle.

Me at work, and the guy in the next cubicle.

This week I read two disturbing bits of news. One is that Yahoo! and Best Buy are rethinking their policy on letting employees work from home. The other is a column in the New York Times’ “Booming” section about how middle-aged people have begun to fret about looking old the same way their 23-year-old selves once obsessed over looking fat.

The two stories are interrelated, which I will get to in a moment. But first, the changes at Yahoo! and Best Buy, if it starts a trend, is bad news for anyone who works from home. I remember reading about Best Buy’s highly celebrated “ROWE” (Results-Oriented Work Environment) policy a few years ago and feeling very encouraged…the stories shared how Best Buy employees with young children could work from home, and even mentioned a vice president who closed deals while duck-hunting. Technology has given us ways to stay connected and meet face to face from wherever we are, and metrics for tracking our productivity; why not use these tools and help people keep balance in their lives?

I feel sorry for all the productive employees at both Best Buy and Yahoo! whose lives are now disrupted; who need to deal once again with commuting, child care, parking costs and how to get dinner on the table. As somebody who has done both face time jobs and work-from-home arrangements, and who is far more productive working from home, I can’t tell you how much this news makes me shudder, for two reasons.

One is that I can no longer imagine having to dress up for work every day. Fred Allen, one of the editors for Forbes.com, said recently that anybody with a pair of pajamas can be a blogger. That is also pretty much the truth for people who work from home. I took a look at my own closet to figure what I would wear if I were forced to show up in person for work every day, and the choices were not anything like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayers’ couture suits or chic little bolero jackets. The few wardrobe items remaining from my last corporate job (I have hung onto them only because they were expensive) have those scary “Working Girl” shoulder pads. Above is a photo of what I usually wear today when I have a work project requiring serious thinking. I am not showing you the top half because I have not yet combed my hair. Also shown is the very noisy guy in the next cubicle, the biggest threat to my productivity.

The second reason, the more important one, is that returning to the office re-introduces all the bullshit that many of us thought we were past – not only how you dress, but also whether you project the right image for the company and whether you suck up to the right people. The New York Times story focused on how people in midlife increasingly worry about whether they “look old.” Appearance should no longer matter for people in midlife who paid their dues for years and whose wisdom, experience and hard-won credentials have earned them respect, trust, and freedom to work from anywhere. But having to do “face time” means that the superficial once again matters.  Marissa Mayers said so herself, saying that she now wants a more youthful vibe for “Yahoo.”  But what happens if you are not youthful? Face time means having to deal with your face, and whether that fits into the image that your employer wants to project. Any middle-aged person who has tried to look for a full-time job recently will know exactly what I mean. I know personally of a few 50-ish job seekers, all extremely qualified and with strong work ethics, who’ve made it past the resume screenings and scored interviews, only to be mysteriously dropped after that, without even a word of explanation.

What will happen if work-from-home jobs are harder to find, especially when the more progressive companies hit hard times and want all hands on deck? What will happen if older people need to return to the office when they are accustomed to working productively from home? Can you imagine squeezing back into career clothes and working for an impossibly driven, impossibly perky boss named Courtney or Josh? How many of us Donnas or Bills could stomach that?

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6 thoughts on “Yahoo! Now We Have To Re-Vamp the Work Wardrobe

  1. Great blog and know many bright young and not so young people who work at home and get more done than some people who go to the office every day and you expect them to work too.

  2. Insightful post and very timely for me — a pajama- wearing blogger, freelance writer. Dog

  3. i just started working from home 4 months ago. prior to that i was a “road warrior”. as i am thinking about starting a family and am getting used to working in yoga pants and a “proper shirt” on top, i can’t imagine getting back into the office every day. yuck. i can come into the office when i want, which is great to get me out of the house and having some in-person interaction with colleagues, but the work from home is definitely something that i can’t imagine giving up.

  4. Mara, working at home does have its perks, and wearing yoga pants for your corporate uniform is one of them! It also helps you make the best use of the times when you are most productive (for me it’s from around 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Plus it’s great for moms; I worked from home a lot when my children were small (but still had to get a sitter for them while I worked.) Hope your employer continues to be progressive. And go out of your way to perform even better than before so that the arrangement is better for them as well as for you. Good luck!

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