Women who have jobs beyond being mothers and housewives have always been dealt the short straw in terms of work-life balance. Those with limited means endure additional hardships, which has only increased because of the current pandemic. We know that mothers bear the brunt of the workload in homes and earn less than their male partners, especially when those women are self-employed. And when those women are single mothers with no built-in support or safety net, they burn out more quickly.
When mothers are working full time from home, they’re additionally trying to parent children who not only aren’t physically attending school, but they also no longer have any of their other normal outlets, such as sports, dance, tutoring, or other after school events. Kids are full of energy that extracurricular activities normally allow them to burn off. Without those outlets, tensions can run high while Mom is in back-to-back virtual meetings and trying to meet deadlines. Furthermore, Kids are doing their schoolwork from home, often using the same resources (e.g., bandwidth, phone), while still needing hands-on help.
Where there are two parents working in the home, both ideally take active steps to challenge the embedded assumptions about the stereotypical gender-normative roles of mothers and fathers. In this way, those norms do not drive the way remote work is performed by men and women and what is expected of them by children, spouses, clients, and management is more equitably managed. The social pressures on women to respond to the demands of children and the shaming women often experience when they prioritize work over children (or vice versa) affects productivity and increases stress. There need to be key behavioral changes from everyone in the home in order for women working from home to be a financially and psychologically viable option.
Flexibility Leads to Productivity
Flexibility allows women who have children at home to maintain their working hours and continue to contribute to the family finances. And that flexibility is not as simple as working 7am to 3pm instead of 9 to 5, but could look like scheduling meetings in 15 minute increments; the short time frame making it easier to distract children. Or scheduling longer meetings so that they occur during a child’s nap time or their school-scheduled P.E. class. Or even letting management know that if a meeting is scheduled at 8, it can still happen, but it might throw off the deadlines for the rest of that day.
When workers feel inspired, motivated, and supported in the work they do, they actually work more hours per week than those not afforded flexibility, which can lead to increased productivity. Workers who have flexibility on the job also report that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and well-being.
Right now especially, leaders who manage a remote workforce need to understand that there might be a baby crying in the background or a toddler that runs in the camera shot if employees are on a videoconference. Acknowledging these interruptions may occur and managing them as professionally as possible is important. Leadership’s role is to assess productivity and amend processes to make appropriate recommendations so that workers can still be productive. Effective leaders will need to manage their people so that the work-from-home dynamic is addressed and understand the remote work ethos is becoming an enduring change that we’ll be living with indefinitely.
Companies need to take a proactive role in the widespread shift in the way work gets done. Some business owners are even rethinking their whole business model and a select few are even no longer requiring employees to work in a physical office. Flexibility in the treatment of work-from-home employees is crucial to maintaining or establishing a diverse and equitable work force. We know that women’s contributions to companies are complex yet extensive, so integrating a diverse and agile workforce that promotes gender parity is an integral step in building a strong company culture.