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We have heard a lot about frazzled working parents during lockdown. Trying to juggle working from home with your kids around is no mean feat. Throw in the pressure of homeschooling, and it’s little wonder that social media exploded with viral posts titled “Why Mummy drinks”. If there’s one positive to come out of the coronavirus, it’s that this change in routine, forced on thousands of families during lockdown, has made them reassess their work-life balance. Despite the pressure of the past few months, a recent UK study shows that only 13% of parents want to return to pre-pandemic ways of working.
It’s hardly surprising that the results of the study, by Bright Horizons—a nursery and work and family solutions provider for employers—showed parents don’t want to return to the daily grind. Simply getting yourself to work when you have children is a military operation. Before you even start your working day, you have to get the little people up, dressed and fed, make packed lunches, bribe them to clean their teeth and get them to crèche, the childminder or school on time. Remember, you have to be office-ready, too – that means no porridge smeared on your shirt.
Why remote working rules
The report, Engaging Working Parents in the New Normal, captured the views of 1,500 working parents in April and May. It showed that most of them (55%) would choose to spend no more than three days in the workplace with the rest spent remotely after getting the opportunity to give it a go. Claire Brown, an operations manager for a pharmaceutical company and mother of two, had the chance to work remotely for the first time during lockdown. “I had never worked from home before,” she said. “At the start it was four days at home and one in [the office] on my own, but we have gradually changed to two days on site. This works for me. I need to be on site to liaise with staff, but I’ve realised I don’t have to be there all of the time.”
Brown says that working remotely for part of the week has helped her work-life balance immensely. She said, “If I want I can log off at 5pm and I’m straight downstairs to do the dinner and help with the kids.”
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A sea change in the way we work
The survey showed that many parents are eager for agile or remote working to continue. Almost half (48%) of those who were previously office-based are considering asking their employers if this might be possible on a permanent basis. Meanwhile, 63% of respondents believe their employers will be more open to remote, agile or flexible working in future.
Brown’s company has already agreed to this without employees having to pluck up the courage to ask. “We are going to embrace remote working in the company,” she said. “It worked well for us from both perspectives. Everyone took to it and there was no drop in productivity.”
Jennifer Liston-Smith who led the study said, “The symbiotic relationship between employers’ need for employees to be productive and employees’ personal commitments around child and elder care have been visible in a way they never were before.”
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What does it mean for productivity?
Richard Thompson, a graphic designer has seen his productivity increase since he started working from home. He is happy to put in the hours when he doesn’t feel tied to the office. “I find myself putting in extra time but I don’t mind,” the father-of-three said. “I save time because I’m not commuting and I get to see my kids more. It’s a win-win situation. I’m not sure how long it’s going to continue but I’m making the most of it.”
This seems to be the sentiment in the majority of cases. The Bright Horizons survey revealed that more than half (53%) of working parents believe greater flexibility would increase productivity and 58% say it would increase their loyalty. What’s more, 79% indicated that flexible or agile working would have a positive impact on their wellbeing.
Interestingly, there is not such a strong desire to reduce working hours. Three out of four of those surveyed said they didn’t want to drop their hours. Common reasons given included high job satisfaction, negative financial impact and they would end up doing the same work in less time for less money. It seems the “new normal” is about flexibility, not working less.
But Liston-Smith warned, “Remote and flexible working alone will not provide the solution, employers need to actively engage with providing support, not passively allow employees to have some additional flexibility. This is a time for employers to step forward and challenge themselves about the employee support they offer.”
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