As working from home has quickly become the new normal for office workers because of coronavirus, so too has the onslaught of advice about how to best work remotely: tips for staying productive and maintaining some form of normalcy; advice on managing your team during a pandemic. These are all topics we, meaning all of us, are actively searching for online to guide us through unprecedented circumstances.
Not everyone is “getting it,” though—what working from home during a pandemic really means for millions of Americans. On March 25, for instance, The New York Times published an article titled “The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings,” which is, in itself, not blind to what’s happening to our workforce. But the article’s subhead at the time read thus: “Do your co-workers really need to make their pets or toddlers part of the call? No.” The internet tore the statement apart.
Why? Working parents. That’s why.
Right now, with schools, preschools, and daycares closed around the country, parents of all walks of life are struggling to take care of their families while also doing their jobs. Women, who bear most of the burden of unpaid labor at home, are not only wearing the hat of an accountant, lawyer, or business executive; they’re also their family’s teachers, nurses, cooks, and entertainers. I’m not a mom, but it seems like now, when anxiety is at an all-time high and we really just need to support one another, isn’t the right time to ask parents to quietly hide their toddler during an hour-long Zoom call.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s never been the right time.
It was easy enough for the working world to pretend our home lives didn’t exist when we were all going into the office, but now that most people who can work from home are being asked to do so, it’s become painfully obvious that there’s a disconnect between our expectations of employees and their bandwidth as human beings. Work-life balance has always been flawed—balance is subjective and not always achievable—but flexibility, empathy, and grace in the workplace are values we should have already been upholding. Research has shown that traits like empathetic leadership make our teams stronger, happier, and more collaborative, and having respectful, professional, and unbiased coworkers is the number-one predictor of overall job satisfaction, at least among working women, who, as I’ve said, are the people juggling the most balls right now.
If we want to continue supporting diverse teams now and after this pandemic is over, then we need to embrace the fact that people have responsibilities beyond their job titles, and that those responsibilities, however chubby their cheeks may be, influence stress levels, work hours, and, yes, even our business meetings sometimes.
There’s also an unscientific good that comes from an interrupted call, whether it’s my coworker’s 8-year-old reading from her joke book or my cat walking across my computer for the umpteenth time, and that’s not something we should throw away because we’re trying to conduct “business as usual.” This is not business as usual. The world is scary and unpredictable, and we’re all doing the best we can.
So please, put your kid on. I would love to hear a joke.
Beth Castle is the managing editor at InHerSight.