Part II: Will ongoing pandemics change work forever?
I recently wrote about some of the major ways that I think we would see workplaces and work culture shift if we face a long-term emergency work from home. If you’d like to read Part II, check it out here.
In that article, I talked about how multi-generational, multi-family living arrangements will become more common and how children will begin to rejoin their parents at work for the long-haul—which might cause workers to begin to break their days into chunks of time rather than working in long, 8+-hour stretches.
Today let’s talk about some other changes we might see.
Men’s Involvement in Childcare and Household Labor Will Continue to Grow
I was introduced to the ThirdPath Institute in the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. The ThirdPath Institute is a Philadelphia-based organization founded by flex-work pioneer Jessica DeGroot. In most families, if one parent decides to work flexible or non-traditional hours in order to accommodate childcare needs, it is usually the mother. Contrary to what we might expect, Schulte argues that not only does this lead to unequal division of childcare responsibilities but, increasingly, fathers are feeling that this prevents them from spending as much time with their kids as they would otherwise want.
When DeGroot and her husband had children, they were determined to forge a “third path” for themselves. Instead of DeGroot alone finding flexible work, she and her husband both found ways to flex of their jobs, which in turn allowed them to share the responsibilities of childcare. In turn, their division of childcare labor was more equal and, most importantly, they both had ample time with their children. Bonus: they add the energy and commitment to work in a very focused way when they were on the job.
Fast-forward a few years later, and DeGroot founded the ThirdPath Institute, to help other families find their own third path to sharing childcare responsibilities, work flexibility, and richer lives.
I predict if we’re facing long-term emergency work from home, we’ll see more families create third paths, where families with more than one caregiver will find ways for all caregivers to work flexibly. This will give all caregivers more time with their loved ones, but, ideally, it would also enforce more equitable distribution among domestic and childcare labor in the house.
During the current pandemic, we’ve seen some signs that men are taking on more of the domestic labor at home, largely because they are finally around to actually see just how much work women do at home on a daily basis. But we’re also seeing that women are making the most compromises professionally in order to handle childcare and other domestic issues during the day. For the most part, the moms are the ones making work calls in the bathroom, working ungodly hours at night after the kids go to bed, and doling out snacks while on a webinar.
If we put our heads together and commit to work flexibility for both men and women, ensuring that neither group suffers workplace discrimination or professional setbacks as a result of flexibility—then we can begin to create sustainable third paths for families. If women continue to make noise around the need for a more equitable division of household labor and men begin to take action in greater numbers, then we’ll be even further down the road.
Note, however, that I don’t think this change will happen naturally. For families to find third paths (should they want them), we’ll need to fight for flexibility, continually negotiate divisions of labor in individual households, and make domestic labor visible. Most importantly, employers will need to take action to extend flexible work arrangements to all employees, men and women, assuring everyone that no one will suffer repercussions if they opt for non-traditional work weeks.
We’ll See a Low-Key War Between Face-Time Culture Supporters and Remote Work Fans
This is already happening: see the bevy of tech CEOs who have extended remote work policies to large percentages of their employees versus Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ thoughts.
Whatever Reed Hastings’ opinion on remote work is, it’s become clear that remote work is here to stay. We’re going to see more remote work, not less, and that it benefits people across the US to make this new reality work for us.
Despite that, we’re likely to see a long, drawn-out war of attrition between people—especially employers—who believe that face-time is necessary for effective productivity and management and remote work advocates who believe that we have the tools necessary to spur creativity and speed productivity in remote work environments, using communications software like video conferencing, messaging, and the old-fashioned telephone, among others.
Workplaces that value face time often end up increasing the number of wasted hours workers spend on the job by prioritizing total hours over productivity. (Look at this old article about Microsoft!) Face-time culture has also been described as a major contributor is pushing mothers out of their careers since mothers are the largest demographic that stands to benefit from flexible and remote work arrangements. (Schulte talks about this at length). Some companies that value face time have even found it hard to recruit top employees, who now more than ever believe that they have the right to exercise a measure of control of their own lives.
Even if building trust, promoting flexible work arrangements, choosing feminist policies, and valuing productivity over butt-in-seat mentality are all obvious reasons to support remote work, it’s still going to require a long process of converting old-school thinking to new ideas. We need to be prepared to advocate for changes, even when it’s difficult.