Working from home is the disruption our industry needs

When this epidemic is over, we must be allowed to be our whole selves at work.

Getty Images
Getty Images

In the many days of working remotely due to COVID-19, we've all likely experienced interruptions on our video calls with colleagues and clients alike. I'm not going to lie, it's been interesting.

I've been mid-sentence as a cat's tail flew across the screen and I lost my train of thought. Or, I've had to pause a call when young children steal the conversation from their working parent with the equivalent of "The human head weighs 8 pounds!

I've also been barked at and barked over by both my dog and my husband.

And you know what? I'm appreciating and encouraging every interruption. Because our current world lacks literal touch, these interruptions are bringing the touching moments we all need. More importantly, they are the positive disruptions we need to finally end some common workplace biases.

Until now, working from home in our industry was fine, as long as no one really knew you were doing it. In fact, even when I worked for several agencies with official remote working policies I still hoped no one would discover I was actually working from home for fear of any career backlash.

And I am not alone. That fear is why in 2017, "BBC Dad" became infamous when the video of his kids interrupting his broadcast went viral. It was what so many of us had been trying to avoid, yet it was so relatable and very funny. Afterward, we continued to work from home hoping not to be exposed in the same way.

Now here we are in 2020 in the midst of a national shutdown working in an industry that is lucky enough to be able to work from home. And with more than half of U.S. schools shut down for the rest of the school year, many of us are working while parenting.

Still, I've seen too many articles with tips on WFH that recommend ensuring a separate workspace so kids and pets can't interrupt. That is unrealistic and it needs to stop. We are all sheltering in our homes without our normal resources and there is nowhere really separate to go.

My husband and I often joke that our open concept home seemed like a good idea when we rehabbed our home. Now, with the two of us working and three kids e-learning? Not so much.

When you have toddlers, it doesn't matter how many doors you have, as they will hunt you down. Loudly. And of course, if you are a single parent there is no separating, period.

When this epidemic is over, we must be allowed to be our whole selves at work. With our newly shared WFH experiences, we can unite to finally disrupt two main reasons holding people back in our industry; caregiver bias and WFH bias.

One theory is that caregiver bias, which has been a major reason women have been held back in the workplace for far too long, will happen less because COVID-19 has thrust all working parents into more hands-on childcare roles.

Have Her Back conducted a study of American workers on the state of workplace culture during COVID-19, and the results back up this theory.

There is more shared accountability for childcare than in years prior, with 38% of fathers reporting they are shouldering more of the caregiving burden than their spouses during this pandemic.

Also, 31% of fathers reported caregiving during the quarantine was "extremely difficult" compared to 14% of mothers. Most telling, 87% of dads agree that women will have more professional opportunities post COVID-19, particularly after having children, because of the acceptance of remote working.

Until now, women have been on the front lines of raising the issues of caregiver bias. Now, this earned empathy could result in a united effort to combat it once and for all.

Post pandemic, any remaining WFH bias will be impossible to defend given that businesses today are running on WFH platforms almost exclusively. Turns out, COVID-19 has highlighted that facetime can be achieved while working remotely and people are working hard while working at home.

So, remote working is likely here to stay. Our study found that 87% of all workers said more people will expect to work remotely post-crisis. And, millennials, people of color, women and dads ranked "ability to work remotely" as a top reason to consider taking a new job.

Companies that want to retain and recruit talent will have to promote remote working policies that authentically help employees succeed in the workplace. This will be a giant step forward for all marginalized groups, but it will benefit everyone.

I was recently interrupted by the loud voice of my husband on a work call. He is a beer-marketing executive and was talking to a sports-league executive. My husband ended the call earnestly, "Don't keep the kids waiting, go watch 'Frozen' and we can continue this tomorrow."

Not long ago, this sign-off would have been unfathomable in our industry. Now, it's a sign of profound things to come.

Caroline Dettman is a founding partner of Have Her Back Consulting.

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