St. Louis, Missouri, USA: “This is Not a Snow Day” folks, Dr. Asaf Bitton called out in an article on Social Distancing. Families in the U.S. are looking at a minimum of six weeks of canceled everything (school, childcare, activity centers, places of entertainment), which would be crisis enough, but many corporations have added the additional burden of “And you’ll also need to work full time.”
For fun, let’s break down that expectation. From roughly 8 a.m. — 5 p.m., you should be working or available to your company, as normal, but just offsite, in your own home. Sounds simple. Add in the benefit of all that flexibility, no distractions from co-workers, no commute, working in pajama pants, (or no pants!).
But it’s not that simple. At a minimum, your newly-quarantined family and societal expectations suddenly include: make three meals a day plus snacks; provide, guide and enforce a structured learning environment for your children who are home instead of school or childcare; provide and supervise fun and creative outdoor excursions for your children; keep a peaceful and calm home environment in spite of your five-year-old’s 42nd request to go somewhere.
At the risk of seeming defensive, here are a few myths and realities of the current work from home situation during coronavirus.
Myth: If you and your spouse are both WFH (work from home), you should be able to tag-team kid care.
Reality: Single-parent households exist, and no amount of work schedule coordination, if even possible, will prevent the inevitable meltdown that will only happen at the moment you both have a pressing business call. There is an additional burden on moms here as well, as my informal Facebook poll revealed that even in the most egalitarian households, education and enrichment decisions fall mostly on maternal shoulders: “Hubs [husband] and I will be tag-teaming our kiddo. For men meanwhile it, “I have some projects for her to do and we will be taking some walks and playing in our yard for some sunshine.” Did you see it? Subtle, but it was in so many responses I read. It’s the idea that the man will be directing the kid-care. Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift, anyone?
Myth: You should use your judgment on working hours.
Reality: There aren’t enough hours total. You will be half-assing work or half-assing parenting if you are trying to work full time.
I think an opportunity to show true innovation and corporate leadership exists right now. Personally, I’m going to respond to the next 50 “Update from XYZ Company on COVID-19” emails I get with this: I’m so glad you’ve decided to do extra sanitizing of your facilities, but what are you doing to meaningfully support your employees during this time?
Employers should understand that their actions towards employees now will be remembered and resonate for years to come. Too many are sitting on their hands waiting for the governments to roll out a solution. Instead, they should devote some time to understanding employees’ needs and concerns and how to address them. And tell the world you’re doing this. Share your leadership. I would be thrilled to see an Instagram feed full of uplifting measures being taken by businesses to ease workers’ concerns and anxiety.
Even something as simple as listening to employees’ concerns would be a novelty according to my sample audience. I casually asked my “Liberal Moms” group on Facebook last Sunday if they would be going to work the following morning as schools would be closed, and this informal poll revealed that of the 33 respondents, 29 were going to work in some capacity. None were given a real choice or asked their opinion. Twelve of them were going into physical offices and of these only five were in healthcare. For the ones working from home, I asked a simple follow-up question. Remote workers, does that solve your kid care needs? All responded with a resounding “no” (accompanied by a good deal of angst). And one literally made the facepalm emoji. “We have a 9 a.m. conference to determine how to divide up workloads,” she said. “Via skype?” I asked, hopeful. “Nope, in person, and I have asthma. *Terrified face emoji*”
This is where true trickle-down happens. I’d love to see employers ensuring reasonable working hours for your team, assure them they will be paid while they are trying to care for their families, and they will feel empowered to order food, shop, support local businesses, and generally keep the economy afloat. Whether or not they choose to wear pants while doing so is up to them.
Liz Negrau works in eCommerce and lives in St.Louis. She is also homeschooling her five-year-old son during the COVID-19 pandemic.