parent opinion

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: "And they said we couldn't work from home."

That sound you can hear is parents holding their breath.

They asked their bosses, way back when they first realised that babies and office hours are not friends, if it was possible to have some “flex”.

‘It would just make a real difference to me,’ they said, ‘If I could do a day from home’. A day without the rush to the train. A day to talk to their kids’ carers at drop-off, rather than throwing the baby through the door and sprinting for the bus. A day to make some work calls while folding washing so that the entire weekend isn’t spent trying to burrow out from under a mountain of odd socks. A day when they can eyeball the teacher/not get charged by the minute for late pick-up/concentrate on that project without Andy from marketing asking them how to work the capsule coffee machine. Again.

They asked. They got told no.

‘It’s an office-based job, Karen,’ they heard. ‘We support flexible working. But only from your office desk, between the hours of nine to five.’

Watch: Carrie Bickmore on returning to work after having her daughter Evie. Post continues below. 

Video by MMC

That sound you can hear is parents holding their breath because they’re thinking… When all ‘this’ is over, will we think differently about work from home?

Is this the turning point for flexible work that women have been waiting for?

Because let’s face it, if we can keep things vaguely moving in the right direction while working from our bedrooms and kitchen tables with kids always there, a partner present and no permitted external distractions or help from extended family members, then surely every second Friday when the kids are back at school will be easy. Right?

The mere fact we office workers know how to behave in a video call (wear pants, don’t just stare at yourself in the top right hand corner), has to change some of the perception that “working from home” is a euphemism for a day off, yes?

“My boss has always argued we can’t be as productive from home,” says Lisa, who works in Marketing (but not with Andy), “And I’ve always wanted to prove to him that I can be. I guess I got that chance, and when this is over, I’m going to ask again.”

“I can do more work not having to dash off to collect my daughter,” says Amelia. “Her preschool is near my house and without the commute, I can work right up to pick-up, rather than having to leave an hour before.”

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In fact, a recent Canadian study found that 48 per cent of teleworkers (as WFH people are called) work more hours from home than they did when they were office-bound.

And a 2019 study by Airtasker found that at-home workers worked an extra 1.4 days per month, had healthier lifestyles and better work-life balance. Whatever that is.

Of course, there are many, many jobs that can’t be done from home. And another raft of jobs that shouldn’t be done from home. What we’re all learning in social isolation (other than that it’s always after 6pm somewhere in the world) is that human connection is invaluable, team-work takes an enormous amount of effort when you aren’t physically in the same space, and that communication can be the most enormous time-suck when you’re constantly concerned about the easily misinterpreted tone of email, Slack and messenger.

Me, I miss people. People I’m not related to. Seeing their heads on screens isn’t the same as sitting beside them. The creative energy of an ideas exchange is stymied by the smallest technological delays, being unable to “read the room” and second-guessing the silence that greets every sentence because everyone’s on mute so you can’t hear the din of the kids killing each other in the background. I miss how quickly you can unpick a misunderstanding with a few people in the same room, looking each other in the eyes.

I miss the buzz of an office, and the coffee and convenience. I miss a clear distinction between professional “me” and home “me”. I even miss, on a bad day, the commute during which I change from one of those states to the other.

But I don’t miss the insane rush to get everyone out of the house dressed and ready and together that starts every workday, and the rush to leave the office at an hour that allows some homework supervision, a meal to be made, and everyone in bed before midnight.

Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss homeschooling on This Glorious Mess podcast. Post continues below. 

For many, full-time office life is not compatible with parenthood, especially early parenthood. Being gone every day from 7am-7pm is not what many of us imagined when we decided to breed. It’s what pushes so many talented, capable women out of the conventional workforce.

So if one sliver of silver-lining of this horrendous health crisis is that it’s been a forced experimentation of the much-discussed “flexibility”, parents will be delighted.

Because it will have proven, once and for all, that office face-time hours do not immediately correlate to productivity hours.

And that if a mother can still hit her KPIs while being asked to home-school her children, work from a Lego-strewn corner of the house alongside someone who says “circle-back” IRL, all while not touching her face and scrubbing all incoming groceries for germs, well, she can do anything.

Feature Image: Supplied. 


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