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Employers Are Supporting Work from Home Parents. But Are They Doing It Well?

Employers are well aware that we're all stuck at home now, toiling away in less than ideal conditions. So what are they doing about it?

Are you a parent grappling with work-life balance? We want to hear from you! Parents@Work, a new program helping employers better support their working parents, is conducting an anonymous survey to surface the unique pain points relating to remote work. Take it here

More Americans are working remotely than at any time in history. In the past six months, the number of people who call their home their office has risen from 17 to 44 percent — representing some 53 million people who now have to learn to share workspaces with kid spaces, cooking spaces, and sleep spaces. Businesses have had to shift as well, no longer able to treat remote work as either a once-in-a-while perk or a future work concept they’d tinker around with on a rainy day. Remote work is here to stay. 

It’s been rough, and it’s taken some getting used to. But as you’re likely tired of hearing by now, it’s the new normal. Inconveniences aside, workers are adjusting to and even enjoying the situation. The long, draining commutes are gone. Ironing clothes, dressing nice, or even wearing pants are optional. There’s a lot of extra time with family. On the other side, some businesses are seeing increased productivity and the potential cost savings, with more than a few reconsidering the need to keep a physical office in expensive cities. 

As such, employers have been working to help their workforce find a way to launch and to work efficiently, comfortably, and even well from home. Conversely, employees looking for new jobs are seeking out perks that help them work better from home. But what qualities should working parents look for from their employer now that remote work isn’t a luxury or an emergency situation? It’s, well, a bit complicated. 

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Remote Control

“The resounding note you hear from working parents when you ask, ‘How are you feeling these days?’ —  and I’ve been asking thousands of them — is a combination of ‘overwhelmed, tired, grateful, and scared,'” says Stewart Friedman, Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, founder of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project, and author of the 2020 book Parents Who Lead. While under different circumstances there might be some shame in admitting that you’re barely treading water, the experience over the past few months has had the opposite effect — you’re almost suspicious of people who claim to be doing fine. 

Remote working parents need to feel they’re being supported by their employer, and that support can take several forms. 

Major tech companies like Google and Facebook have extended remote leave until the end of summer 2021, with others like Twitter, Square, and Shopify are giving employees the option of indefinite remote work. Many are increasing paid caregiver leave times (up to 14 weeks in some cases), and subsidized tutoring. If you are in a situation where childcare and a full-time job are simply impossible, you may ask about whether or not your company offers employer-sponsored or discounted membership to childcare assistance programs such as Care.com (which is something Amazon, Netflix, and Nvidia all offer). 

As so many parents know today, these tangibles only get you halfway there in a pandemic. The childcare situation is ever moving and hard to predict. Will school remain in session? Will the daycare shut down? Will it be safe to even have a nanny? Given all these, it’s imperative that employers and employees have a sense of trust and understanding. Just because the workforce is in their pajamas, making the kids lunch and dealing with tantrums or IT errors, the job is still getting done. This intangible arrangement is essential to remote work. Easing the pressure to be “on” at all times—- realizing that there may be the need to log off and assist with children or take care of issues around the home — and establishing boundaries is vital. And it’s something that both employers and employees need to push for. 

“The more you can focus on results and less on ‘face’ time – not feeling pressured to be ‘present’ – the more freedom you’ll have to draw those boundary lines,” says Friedman.  

The Intangibles of Remote Work

A study conducted by Boston Consulting Group in May 2020 found that 60 percent of those interviewed had no outside help with caring for or educating their children. Another 20 percent of those admitted they had less help during the pandemic than they had available to them before. That same study found that parents now spend an additional 27 hours – a full day plus – a week on childcare, education, and household chores than they did before. Clearly, this is not sustainable. With school reopening plans varying wildly not just from state to state but district to district, it’s an additional juggling act on top of the one you were already engaged in just being a parent. And, again, no one’s adding any extra arms to your body.

So while working parents need an employer to be flexible with “start” and “end” times and offer financial or physical assistance, they also need a partner who can be equally as flexible. 

“It’s important to negotiate those boundaries with the people in your home,” says Friedman. “It’s not by magic that you develop a workable set of understandings about needs for private time, bounded time where you’re uninterrupted and at the same time those periods where you can be interrupted, when those boundaries of time and space can be permeable,” says Friedman. “When they can move in and out, and why. It’s understanding what the people around you need and then adjusting accordingly.” 

You’ve heard “we’re all in this together” countless times over the past six months, but this is what that means. So the ideal work environment is one with a supportive and understanding employer, a trustworthy and results-oriented workforce, and a flexible home environment with boundaries.