In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Of dog drool and other pleasures of working from home

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

Two dogs, with beseeching and mournful stares, plus a little drool for extra emphasis, have come to tell me that deadline is imminent.

Deadline happens to coincide with feeding time, though I’m sure they’re answering to some innate primitive doggie instinct to keep this old guy employed. No need for a clock in this workplace. Dog alerts are just one of the many bonuses that come, free of charge (other than the cost of puppy chow) with telecommuting.

The household dogs, a pair of barking lunatics, also do a fine job of fending off squirrel attacks, magazine hawkers, FedEx delivery men and door-to-door proselytizers who would otherwise ruin my concentration with warnings about a coming apocalypse. You don’t want to be worried about Armageddon while writing about Miami City Hall.

Yet I’ve noticed that during the contentious national debate over employees (or slouchers, depending on your point of view) working from home, no one has mentioned this canine advantage. That argument, usually described as “raging,” was ignited by a employee directive leaked last month from Yahoo! Inc. that put an end to telecommuting among its 13,000 workers. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” the memo states. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

We all need to be one big Yahoo. If those words don’t stir your heart, what will? But after the memo was leaked to the blog All Things D (for digital), it began, as we techno geeks like to say, “burning up the Twitterverse.”

I imagine thousands of Yahoo workers getting the bad news while sitting at home on a workday, dressed in their work uniform of underwear and flip flops, eating handfuls of Cheerios straight from the box, stumbling on the startling news after accidentally straying over to the company website from Facebook.

The ensuing outrage quickly spread beyond the Sunnyvale, Calif., corporate headquarters of Yahoo!, a company that does something, though no one is quite sure what, on the Internet. Marissa Mayer, 37, Yahoo’s fifth CEO in five years, was sizzled by the telecommuters of the world. A lot of women noticed that it was a bit easier for Mayer, a new mother, to commute to Sunnyvale with her nanny and child in tow, plus she has a nursery adjacent to her executive office suite. (In that spirit, I’m holding out for a kennel and doggie run at The Herald’s new digs in Doral.)

The worldwide reaction included a lot of angry talk about breastfeeding. I’m not sure that helps my case.

But my employers enjoy other subtle benefits from my occupational haunts, a musty guest bedroom with a computer desk and a bed covered with stacks of files, letters, newspaper clippings and giant tangles of wires that correspond to computers, routers, cameras, recorders, modems, telephones, speakers and other long disappeared gadgetry. (The sort of housekeeping that, if transferred to a newsroom setting, would cause the fire marshal’s head to smoke.)

For starters: no sexual harassment issues. The Herald has no worries, with me 20 miles from the newsroom, that women in the office might be unable to keep their hands off me. And no intern scandals. The Yahoo! memo cheered the presumed advantages of employees “physically being together,” but that phrase could be interpreted in ways not so conducive to workplace efficiency.

Yahoo! detractors argue that former telecommuters will now lose hours of their pathetic lives sitting in traffic. Maybe, but my situation would be even more debilitating. There’s no known route from Fort Lauderdale to Doral that doesn’t entail a close encounter with the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, with all those billboards boasting a soul-killing array of geriatric rock-and-roll acts (rockers with walkers), guys who seem to have been on perpetual tour since 1969. You can only bear so many roadside reminders of your own advancing age.

Besides, the New York Times reported last week that Yahoo!’s ban on telecommuters may have been about more than cracking down on homebound slackers. A number of the company’s at-home workers seemed to have been spending their working hours devising their own private online startups.

I’d like to assure my editors that when they ask, “What the hell do you do all day?” the answer has nothing to do with my suddenly striking it rich on the Internet. No start-ups are being birthed (or breastfed) at this address. However, if any investors out there would like to provide a bit of venture capital for my digital tombstone proposal, AKA e-obit, please don’t send the checks by FedEx. It upsets the dogs..

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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