Why Marissa Mayer's Virtual Work Ban Could Never Fly in Adland

One Freelancer's Plea to Consider the Value Remote Workers Provide

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Here's what I'm wondering. Who are all these Yahoos who were supposed to be "working from home" but weren't really working very much at all? And how did they keep their jobs this long?

I'm a Freelancer in advertising. And do you know what would happen if I didn't produce anything on a gig? No more gig. Over. Done. Thanks for playing. Don't call us, we'll call you.

What perplexes me about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decree is that instead of just firing the unproductive, she declared that they must now start coming into the office. Maybe she's just hoping the decision will force them all to quit, thereby saving the struggling company any severance costs. But what she's really doing is casting doubt on the very idea of the modern worker.

Yes, I know I'm biased. But there's good evidence to support non-traditional working arrangements. In a challenged economy and at a time where flexibility to scale up and scale down when needed has been paramount, freelancers and virtual staffers have been called upon far more than they ever have in the past. This is especially true in adland.

But Ms. Mayer's actions have prompted a disturbing amount of chatter, in the press, on social media channels and about whether working remotely was ever working at all. "I mean, really," says the morning talk show guy, "aren't all of those people who say they're working from home really just playing video games and watching Judge Judy?" Now, certain companies that had permitted freelancing or working remotely are starting to reexamine their approach.

It was disappointing to see that Best Buy earlier this week joined the come-into-the-office-or-else chorus by ending their successful ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) program. More big firms are sure to follow. Back to the cubicle farm with you!

Meanwhile, some of the most talented people I know don't go to the office every day. And that's not their measure of success. They're talented regardless of where they're logging on. And in the ad business, freelancers are often the ones who are what I refer to as "The Makers" - writers, strategists, designers, coders and entrepreneurs. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that advertising agencies are themselves getting more and more used to "project work." Agencies have had to become very nimble very fast. And that environment has bred some really smart people.

The Freelancers I know are renting their brains to the highest bidders every day and most never have a day off. Some of them are doing three or four projects at a time while also churning out their own artwork or app ideas on the side. And they can even join together, Voltron-style, and create mini-agencies that can handle not-so-mini projects.

They keep in contact with their clients (and each other) by phone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype. And they even (gasp) go into the offices of their clients for meetings - or to work a few days while building something that needs intense collaboration. But they never show up someplace just because that place is paying them. They never go to meetings just to be seen in the meeting. And, once their mission is complete, they move on to the next one.

They don't just sit there waiting for someone to tell them what to do. They can't afford to. They're taking classes at night because they know if they don't keep up on the latest skills, they may not get the next gig. They seem to get more valuable with every experience. All while "working from home."

And let's face it -- working from home is often a cost-effective arrangement for employers too.

If I was the chief executive of Yahoo (and just writing those words has caused me to laugh out loud at myself), these Makers are the kind of people I would want to be attracting. To do it, I would make sure that the mission of my company was clear and that my teams were working on interesting, innovative projects toward that mission. Famous projects.

Ms. Mayer must know this. She comes from Google, one of the few companies that might tempt some of my smartest Freelancer friends to take a full-time job.

Tom Christmann is a Freelance Creative Director and founder of Mongo Industries, a confederacy of Freelance Marketing Experts. He can be reached at [email protected].
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