I am pretty sure we have all enjoyed working from home, especially when you think about the money saved on commuting, work wardrobe and fast-food lunches.
While a lot of people they have been forced back into the office full time (despite what we all learned through the pandemic and the countless studies that have proved how effective hybrid working can be when done well) the majority of us are still able to work flexibly, choosing when we work from home. However, there are some unintended consequences, socially, that is only strengthening the gender divide.
Deloitte have published their 2022 Women at Work Global report – where they surveyed 5000 women across 10 countries. The headlines from the report are quite shocking, 53% of women report feeling more stressed now than they did a year ago and 46% of respondents admitted feeling burned out. What is more, 42% are worried that their career progression will be affected if they are not constantly available and therefore cannot switch off from work.
Whilst men are often offered the same flexibility, they are tending to prefer being more present in the office. This could be a symptom of why more than half of the women Deloitte surveyed felt that the hours they were present online was judged more than the quality of their work. And more than 60% felt excluded from their team. If not being in the office is potentially career damaging, of course it makes sense to want to be more present in the office (given the choice or impartiality to wfh).
For many women, there are huge personal benefits for having more flexible working. If we consider that more women than men are likely to manage logistics for childcare or caring for a relative, managing the household chores and generally supporting the family emotionally – these are all tiresome and time consuming (unpaid) jobs.
Women who have reduced or changed their working hours during the pandemic are more likely to feel burned out and have higher stress levels, they also feel less optimistic about their career prospects now than they did a year ago. Their time spent completing household tasks, looking after children and looking after other dependents has also increased significantly.
For women in the self-employed / start-up category, (this is me holding up my hand!) flexible working and working from home is the norm. One is never escaping the household management – when you’re at home you can just arrange for a delivery OR wait around for the plumber. Your neighbours rely on you being in too to take in their deliveries. And, let’s not even start on the endless washing pile…
Even when we do have childcare in place, just being in the house means you can’t grab a glass of water or a cuppa quickly when the children come home from school. The constant guilt of ‘but mummy, you are home, why can’t I just stay home with you?’ when you’ve suggested they go out for a bit. Not to mention the dog… Another distraction to the working day.
Of course, we need to have boundaries in place and we need to make sure we’re making time to just work, I absolutely get that, but there is this very real challenge of working from home and not taking on the household management as well.
The truth is, we end up working all hours. From getting up early to check any overnight messages & setting ourselves up so that once the children have gone to school to get started on the working day. Then, it’s the unpaid job – dog walking, kids breakfasts / packed lunches / school drop off (making sure they have the right equipment or outfit for their day / load of washing on!
We end up having a work call while cooking dinner, replying to emails once the kids are in bed (delay send is my favourite feature), writing presentations, catching up on a podcast or social media content just to keep on top of it all.
What is the solution?
- Mindset shift – please can we all stop thinking because someone is at home they can do all of the housework. Men, I feel like I am talking to you when I say this, just because we are at home does not mean we are not working! There is mounting evidence that working fathers prefer to be in the office, and are more likely to go into the office without thought than working mothers.
- Create boundaries – set some home management boundaries. When you were both going into the office every day, how did you manage the household? Have you reduced your childcare since the pandemic because you know you’re at home? If this is you, what are your work / personal boundaries and how have you shared and agreed these with your team?
- Review and adjust – just like we recommend for working in a hybrid team, see this like an experiment. What is working? What is not? What can you experiment with as a family? What do you need to adjust?
Commit to action
For workplaces, behavioural change is a must. It’s more than just having a policy, it’s more than having education sessions. It is commitment to action.
- Don’t send emails at all hours just because that’s what suits you. Set up delay send so that people who might be working in the evenings don’t feel like they have to respond there and then.
- Find time that suits everyone for team get-togethers and not just when suits those who are in the office more regularly.
- If you haven’t heard from someone in the team on a virtual call, ask them for their opinion or their ideas – make sure you include them even if you can’t see them.
- Consciously celebrate successes for everyone and not just the people in the office that you see regularly.
- Changing how we behave so that particularly working mothers feel that they are included even if they are working from home. Have a conversation to agree, even if temporarily, what the flexible working arrangements are and make the time to review these to make sure they’re working for everyone.
- Please don’t insist on everyone being in the office all the time or even have meetings at 9am in the office because that’s when everyone is expected to be in by, talk to your team and find out what works best for everyone.
- Create a culture of inclusivity – be mindful that everyone is different and it’s not a one size fits all team. Take the time for each of the team to get to know each other personally helping everyone to understand each other.
- Have regular check-ins with each team member and keep an eye on how people are working, ensuring people aren’t burning out.
- Create the opportunity for active recovery – find out what this might be for different people in the team.
If you are reading this and your partner is the one who works from home most of the time or more flexibly than you do, just remember, they are still working. Just because they’re at home, don’t assume they can do all of the household chores. Yes, it’s exhausting commuting, but actually you get to switch off by commuting, for those at home all of the time the off-switch is not so obvious.
*NB Any reference to ‘women’ relates to any person who identifies as a woman and any reference to ‘men’ relates to any person who identifies as a man.*