Balancing Productivity and Happiness

Micah Wedemeyer writes on that lost in the debate regarding telecommuting and productivity is personal happiness.

Even if it were true that telecommuters are less productive than office workers (a point he does not concede), so what?

If maximizing productivity for the company is all that matters, then you should never drink alcohol, always get a good night’s sleep but not too much, take an even measure of Adderall and caffeine every day, never have children, and take all sick relatives off life support. Ridiculous, right? That’s because workplace productivity is not the be-all-end-all of our lives. And for me, working from home provides the right balance of productivity and happiness.

It’s that balance that companies should focus on, not whether an employee works in the office or telecommutes. Lean too far to the “happiness” side and business urgency may be lost; lean too far to the “productivity” side and employees will burn out and quit the first chance they get.

Companies that get the balance right will have engaged, motivated employees regardless of where they work.

Book Review: In a Season of Dead Weather by Mark Fuller Dillon

Originally posted at the New Podler Review of Books.

Grab a comfy chair by the fire, a hot drink, and a book of good horror stories.  Those rattling shutters outside?  Just the blowing snow.  Those shadows dancing in the corner?  Fire light, nothing more.  And the whispers behind your chair are your imagination.


That’s the feeling Mark Fuller Dillon conveys throughout his short story collection In a Season of Dead Weather. In most of the stories, it was never quite clear whether the “horror” was in the narrator’s mind or if it was real. The reader was left to interpret at the end.

And that worked for me. Each Lovecraftian tale was expertly crafted, with poetic and visceral language describing characters enduring the loneliness and isolation of a long winter in the country or the city. Dillon is a Quebec native, so he’s no stranger to maddeningly endless winters (I’m a west Michigan native, so I can sympathize).

Most of the stories were quite literary and a little confusing to me, a genre reader. But their narrative styles, descriptions, and situations were so unique that I found myself eager to read on just to hear the language rather than find out what happens to the characters.

In the first story, “Lamia Dance,” a medical student takes a break from his studies – and braves the snow – to attend a film festival where see a film that brings back haunting memories from his childhood. The film’s images of violence and anatomy seemed quite erotic to the narrator. “Lamia Dance” was either a story about being pushed into a profession that the narrator did not choose for himself…or about a budding serial killer.

In “Never Noticed, Never There,” Tom Lighden sees ghastly apparitions in terrible pain on the streets of Ottawa. He is the only one who sees them, as every one else simply walks past them without a second glance. Dillon implies that society has become good at ignoring the pain of others, as we are too busy with our own lives to notice.

If you’ve ever been stuck alone in the woods during winter, you’ll understand the characters’ bleak situations in “Shadows in the Sunrise,” “The Vast Importance of the Night,” and “Who Would Remain?” Blizzards keep the narrators from civilization, they lose time, and see clawing shadows. Is it madness, ghosts, alien abductions? The reader is left to wonder if it’s all real or if winter has claimed the characters’ sanity. While the three stories had similar themes, their unique characters and situations sufficiently differentiated them.

“The Weight of Its Awareness” had a middle-aged man revisiting a seemingly deserted, walled-off home that he originally tried to explore when he was eighteen. Grotesque sculptures now decorate the gardens, and a dark presence spies him from the home’s blackened windows and infects his mind. The story seemed like an extreme version of “curiosity killed the cat.” It was the weakest of the seven stories for me; although “weak” is a relative term since even this story kept me enthralled.

The strongest story for me was “When the Echo Hates the Voice.” Paul Bertrand is a brilliant, handsome young man who’s always the life of any social gathering and constantly seeks any excuse to be around people. The reason is that he cannot stand to be alone, for that is when the voices and faces visit him. Told by a narrator observing Paul, the story suggests a struggle between two personalities: one that seeks companionship and social reward, and one that seeks to keep us isolated from each other.

As I said at the beginning, I’m a genre reader and rarely read stories just for their styles and language. Dillon’s In a Season of Dead Weather is one of those rare works that can make even a genre reader like me want to take a second look at the literary. Highly recommended.

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Telecommuter Blues

Last week Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer launched a brouhaha regarding telecommuting by mostly banning the practice at Yahoo (turns out that genuine abuse may have prompted the decision).

Now Best Buy has ended its ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) policy for corporate employees for much the same reasons as Yahoo.

I’ve been a full-time telecommuter for six out of the last ten years, so I thought I’d weigh in:

  1. Successful telecommuting requires managers to communicate clear, measurable goals that telecommuters must attain. If those goals are not being met — as with any office employee — then it’s incumbent upon leadership to follow up with the employee to find out what happened. If telecommuting employees consistently do not meet their goals, then fire them just like any office employee.
  2. Employees can “slack off” in an office just as well as from home. I used to work in an office cubicle next to guys who’d spend hours each day talking about their fantasy football line-ups; the ladies on the other side of me grumbled about the latest singer to get booted off American Idol. Working in an office does not stop “slacking.”

    It goes back to expectations and goals — if telecommuters are meeting and/or exceeding their goals, then why should it matter if they spend a five hours a day on Facebook? And if the goals/expectations are too light, then shouldn’t managers adjust them to fill out the employee’s day?

  3. Yahoo says they need “all hands on deck” for face-to-face collaboration. This is the flimsiest of their excuses, especially from an internet company. There are plenty of thriving companies today with remote employees who collaborate just fine. Again, if collaboration is not taking place among telecommuters, then that is a failure of leadership and imaginative use of existing technology, not telecommuting.
  4. However, telecommuting is not for every one or every job. Some people are more productive in an office setting, while others are more productive when they work quietly by themselves. Some jobs require office “face time,” while others can be done at home. It should be up to managers and employees to decide which situation fits the job and the person.

Telecommuting is a valid work option for managers and employees who agree to clear expectations and goals. Banning it for everyone is lazy policy and makes a company look desperate.