Working from home for over a year has not been, well, remote easy for many women. Women report doing more household chores. Mothers report providing the bulk of child care, as well as higher rates of anxiety and depressive disorders. So many women have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic – in May, a net amount of 1.79 million, according to a June analysis of data from the National Women’s Law Center’s Bureau of Labor Statistics – that some called last year of “her-demise.”
But what if companies ultimately respond to this moment by creating more supportive office cultures?
“If we take what we have learned and see it not as just a response to a crisis but what good management and good organizations look like, we have a chance to leave the pandemic stronger and more inclusive than we do. ‘came in,’ said Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, co-founder of the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and senior strategist for diversity, equity and inclusion at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
As some companies begin to bring workers back to the office, experts say it is possible to weave revelations focused on the inclusiveness of working from home into the corporate culture. And to make sure these options help women rather than create new professional barriers, they say, we have to be intentional about it.
Here are five ways they say the return to office life can be improved.
1. Talking about our personal life is now less taboo, and we should continue like this
It’s ironic that employees work from different locations but see each other’s personal lives more than ever. It can also be a good thing, because it means that the problems of working parents are no longer abstract.
Before the pandemic, “if you had a childcare crisis or if you had to go to the pediatrician or if you wanted to play school, even in a supportive work environment, you may have bypassed this problem, or just left the office, or didn’t mention to people where you were going, or been shy about it, ”said Daisy Dowling, author of“ Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids ”and founder and CEO of Workparent, a consulting company focused on working parents.
By “making staff professional,” as Mackenzie says, we can develop empathy and foster communication about what is most useful to each member of a team.
2. We should reconsider our approach to teleworking
In May 2020, Twitter was apparently the first company to announce that many employees will never have to return to the office. Over the past few months, many companies have shared plans for a hybrid model consisting of a few days of office work and a few days of remote work.
Vanessa Quigley co-founded photo book company Chatbooks in 2014 with a mission to “strengthen families” through its products as well as its culture, she said. Before COVID-19 hit, if a staff member had to go to a doctor’s appointment or a school function, it was totally fine, Quigley said, and employees had unlimited paid time off . The company typically required employees to work from its headquarters in Provo, Utah, two days a week, with the option of working from two satellite offices in Utah the other three days to reduce commute times. .
“At the time, it seemed super flexible, super generous,” Quigley said in July 2020. But the pandemic “completely changed” the company’s “definition of flexibility,” she added.
Quigley said the company has realized that employees are absolutely capable of working productively from home. The company has closed those satellite offices permanently in response to the pandemic, swapped its Provo headquarters for a smaller, more central space in Lehi, Utah, and no longer has any sort of mandate over the number of days a week that employees have to work from the office.
When Quigley spoke about the effects of the pandemic last year, she said the change would affect hiring as well. While the company had worked hard to emphasize gender diversity – chatbooks said 65% of leadership positions are currently held by women – there was an assumption “that racial diversity was not there. not possible because of where we live and because we believe in everyone working in the same office at least two days a week, ”Quigley said at the time.“ But now that we know we can working remotely in a truly productive way gives, for the first time, the impression that it is possible to have true racial diversity and equality. “
To make sure that no employee feels at a disadvantage because of their location, Chatbooks “really embraced asynchronous working,” Quigley said in May. When meetings are needed, the company uses what’s called the “one face per square rule”: “If you have a meeting and someone is remote – which is, you know, every meeting. someone is remote – so even if you have a group of people in the office, everyone has to be on Zoom: one face per square, ”Quigley explained.
3. We should think about all types of flexibility options
Of course, flexibility doesn’t just mean working from home. It can also mean a shift in working hours (for example, to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours, or the “crisis in childcare between 3 and 5 p.m.” as the Atlantic said in 2018).
It can even mean a four-day work week – something Bloomberg Businessweek reports that companies in other parts of the world, from Germany to New Zealand, are testing. Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on advancing women in the workplace, said that in addition to more than 50% of her organization working remotely before COVID, Catalyst had four and a half days. week of work.
Ideally – getting back to this whole franchise idea – companies can ask their employees to share the changes they think will help them be most effective, Dowling said.
4. Management training should become a priority
Swetha Sharma, who lives in Atlanta and works as an editorial director in the hospitality industry, gave birth to her second child in February 2019, while working in cable news. She resumed her job in May and in August she realized that she could not continue working for her manager and her team. “I had to take the time – 20 to 30 minutes – twice a day during my working hours to [pump], she said last summer.
Sharma quit her full-time job, then began working part-time for another department at the same company with managers who helped her work out a schedule that worked best for her.
Mackenzie believes the pandemic has placed even more emphasis on the important role managers play, and she hopes companies will invest in management training and support now and after we return to the office.
Through focus groups in her lab, one-on-one conversations, and community forums at the nonprofit Watermark, where she sits on the board, Mackenzie found that considerate managers spent more time for employee care in response to the pandemic. She said she also noticed more support for working mothers after data showed how disproportionately the pandemic had affected them.
5. We should think about how we support workers outside the office
When companies switched to remote working at the start of the pandemic, some gave their workers a home office budget – money for a new chair or desk monitor. This idea of allocation could also be applied in other areas; for example, a recent Catalyst report pointed out that companies might offer child care allowances or programs for parents.
“I believe the sense of employee well-being, including everything an employee faces, is on the table in a way that it wasn’t as much on the table before COVID,” Mackenzie said .