“(There’s an) unspoken assumption that people will go back to the office, resume business travel, travel for a company retreat. Our CEOs kids are grown, I have concerns about business travel and bringing COVID home to my kids. The CEO can’t wait to get back in the office, travel and go to events. Not everyone else feels this way, but she seems to missing this idea that everyone can’t wait to go back to the way things were.”
“Right now, they are engaging in the fantasy that we all need to be back in the office together “because it’s better”.
“My manager wants everyone in the office, and speaks badly about those working from home.”
Over 2,000 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have shared their stories since our study began in March of 2020. Why is the return to office so emotionally charged? It represents more captive time. And our schedules are so full, they resemble constellation maps. And now, the genie is out of the bottle. Not only is remote work doable, it can be done productively. It’s not just Moms either, most Employees who can work remotely want to. And if it happened, with kids, partners and pets all over the place, imagine how well it can work with better childcare options?
We’re conditioned, in our society, to believe we can’t spend enough time with our kids or hours at work. So, we’re torn. And regret every missed bedtime as much as the unread emails. Of course, time with our kids is important. But we already spend more time parenting and working, than any previous generation. So, if your kids are healthy and happy and you spend less hands-on parenting time, are you still a good Mother?
We’re Judged Harshly. Then Judge Ourselves in the Form of Guilt
“I don’t want to be perceived as ill-equipped, less committed, less career-driven.”
“Toxic positivity adopted by leadership means those that don’t join in are not team players.”
Why yes, of course you are. But we worry about how we’re judged in society. And then judge ourselves. Even though the standards for Moms, when partnered with Dads, differ. Pre-Covid, time use studies show that Moms have very little leisure time. This doesn’t leave many options for self-care, self-fulfillment, or career growth. But we still internalize these impossible rules. That ‘good Moms’ spend their discretionary time on their families and households. And ‘good workers’ spend that time working harder. So, where does that leave ‘good’ working Moms?
And Having Our Kids Nearby is Comforting
“(They have given) flexible scheduling so that I can put my children first.”
Although many have spent lockdown, craving uninterrupted time and boundaries, bouncing between caring for kids and work, has its joys. And countless children struggled mentally or physically through the crisis. Requiring more support. Ultimately, we prepare kids to become the architects of their own lives, as they grow. But before that happens, there’s something very satisfying about having them within sight.
Sure, overparenting is a thing. So, having some space is good for us and for them. Yet, when we can’t see them, we often feel guilty or nervous. Even before the global health crisis. So, the return to office for some, stokes anxiety after a year and a half, of being able to watch their kids closely.
And Remote Work, Does Work
“The expectation to be in your office 40 hours a week. I think we have all proven that we can be productive at home as well… I’d like the option to continue to work from home some days.”
“(It helps) that I don’t have to go into the office, which is pretty far now that I moved. And even when the pandemic is lifted she put on our contract we have the choice to remain working from home.”
Not every job can go virtual. Many of our surveyed parents have remained on-site as doctors, nurses, teachers, researchers and business owners. But most, in our study, have worked from home through the height of social distance. Now, organizations have are going public about their return to office expectations. But many of our surveyed parents will resist or refuse the constraints of life in the office. By changing jobs or career paths altogether. Of course, it’s much bigger than full-time remote work. It’s the implied trust and autonomy behind it.
In Person Has its Place
“It is obvious that management feels everyone needs to be onsite and part-time work is almost nonexistent.”
Entire industries revolved around keeping workers ‘captive.’ Urban planners were hired to cram more people into overcrowded cities. And designers re-worked office plans to fit in extra cubicles. Airlines often charged exorbitant fees to bring people from one city to the next, sometimes for only a few hours. Many of us love seeing our imaginative, kind, colleagues in person. But it rarely mattered to getting daily work done. It was often the social bonds or focused strategy time offsite, that made in-person time meaningful.
But the Freedom Economy is Growing
“I started working from home during the pandemic and was forced to come back into work or find another job.”
The exodus from traditional work preceded the pandemic. More people were becoming digital nomads and joining the gig economy —evidenced by the exponential growth of services like Uber, my former employer Care.com and Upwork. If remote wasn’t a ‘thing’ those multimillion-dollar businesses wouldn’t exist.
It’s often the leadership roles, traditional industries and companies, where people are expected to give up their freedom even if they burn out in the process. But that’s changing too. With several big companies early in the pandemic saying, ‘don’t come back to the office and reserve your desk when you want one.’
Can we All Agree to End the Old Way?
“(I’m afraid) failure to meet expectations or to raise concerns about the culture, will result in lower performance ratings, lessened confidence and fewer opportunities”
“(They’re) not allowing me to work from home when my job is doable from home.”
It’s the dignity of discretion, that matters. Let workers decide when, how and where they work most effectively. While we’re at it, align on the expectations and success measures. And please, not always in meetings. Meetings have their place but there are many other ways to collaborate.
So why does this culture of captive time and it’s performative displays of busyness persist? It goes back to the post-industrial era. When the economy was mostly fueled by manufacturing jobs and pay was managed by the hour. And of course, it’s kind of stayed this way – directly or indirectly, regardless of the setting we work in. But the goal of work isn’t really to be busy. Or to look that way. Is it?
And Embrace Something Better
“(We need) flexible schedules, understanding of need for personal time, training and resources to help us adapt to new ways of working.”
“(They’re) listening to our needs/concerns and making adjustments.”
No. For most, the goal of work is bigger. It’s to create something stunning, helpful or to solve problems. It’s contributing to the communities we serve in positive ways. And it’s empowering people through economic and social growth. It’s the outcomes that matter. So, let’s find sustainable and scalable ways to do so.
And let’s stop berating ourselves over the inability to meet conflicting goals. Like working around the clock, volunteering for every event and raising perfectly behaved kids, in pristine homes.
Parents bring so much creativity, innovation and balance to the workplace. Organizations will not win if people are asked to continue with relentless schedules. It doesn’t serve anybody. And normalizing flexible work arrangements, has the potential, to even the long-standing wage, wealth and leadership gaps that have plagued working Mothers.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.Tags: Career development, Career Development for Moms, Future of Work, Manage Stress For Moms, Remote Work with Kids, return to office, work life integration for Moms, Working Families, Working Moms