“While 2020 was a year of serious challenges, tragedies, and divisions, there were some bright spots. In this blog series, the IWF team looks back at the year’s highlights, silver linings, and redeeming themes as we countdown the days to 2021.”
Before the pandemic swept the globe, I made the decision to leave my desk job to permanently work from home. I had a newborn whose first years I didn’t want to miss, a career that naturally demanded odd hours, and an opportunity to join an organization I admired. Independent Women’s Forum, which prides itself on being a flexible, all-remote workplace, was a perfect fit.
My first day with IWF was in mid-March—about the time when the entire country went into lockdown. Suddenly, my new work-from-home gig wasn’t unique; for more than half the workforce, it was the norm. The only difference was that, for me, I was working from home by choice.
Still, my situation looked different because of the pandemic. Instead of hiring a nanny, my husband and I had to juggle watching our daughter while we worked. While difficult, I chose to focus on the bright spot—the ability of both of us to be with her at home.
In 2019 as I prepared for my daughter’s arrival, I read a number of books that led me to making the decision to work remotely. Among them: “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters,” by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense,” by Mona Charen and “Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe,” by Meg Meeker. These books made it painstakingly clear that a mother’s emotional and physical presence in her child’s life—especially during the first few years of life—gives her child a greater chance of growing up emotionally healthy, happy, secure, and resilient.
Of course, this was a difficult pill to swallow for a young professional who was just beginning to make it in her career. After learning all the benefits to staying home, I feared I’d have to make the choice of so many women before me: be a stay-at-home mom, or hire a full-time nanny to prioritize my career. I worried that walking away from my job at this stage of life would reverse the decade of hard work. But leaving my baby all day for an office and a long commute was a prospect I couldn’t fathom.
When the opportunity to work from home landed in my lap, the decision I made was easy. I’d hire a part-time nanny so I could continue pursuing my career, but work from home where I could be physically present with my daughter. I didn’t take for granted how privileged I was to find this option. Prior to covid, working a flexible schedule from home was rare.
But suddenly, half the workforce was doing it.
The work from home revolution is one of the few silver linings of the covid pandemic. The highly contagious virus has forced companies to make working remotely feasible and in the process, many have discovered the perks. Commutes are slashed, productivity is still high, expensive office space is no longer necessary at such a grand scale, and importantly, some employees are happier. Certainly, there will always be a place for the office and water cooler conversations that so many of us have missed. But is the 9-to-5 really so necessary when, online, we’re still connected?
Of course, not all employees want the same thing. I know plenty of moms who value the ability to go into an office as a break from caring for their kids. Doing so helps them be better moms. However, greater workplace flexibility also benefits those who don’t use it. If we want to lower carbon emissions, for example, we should support fewer people embarking on long commutes.
Sadly, progressive policies would make flexible work arrangements less obtainable in a post-covid world. Their one-size-fits-all policies such as government-run daycare benefit parents who go back to work while punishing those who stay home. Gender quotas pressure women into taking on prestigious, demanding roles they don’t always want, while creating a sense of tokenism that undermines their qualifications and hard work. The gender pay gap perpetuates the myth that women are mistreated in the workforce, when in reality many of us make an educated choice to trade pay raises, promotions, and overtime for fewer demands and more time at home.
Had it not been for the privilege of finding a flexible workplace, I would have been tempted to join the 43% of women in the United States who leave their jobs after having children. Instead, I found an organization that offers the best of both worlds. Prior to the covid pandemic, these opportunities were rare. But now, more companies are considering it long-term. According to The Wall Street Journal,
A survey of corporate leaders conducted by Gartner on June 5 found that in the future, 82% plan to allow remote working at least some of the time; 47% said they intend to allow full-time remote work going forward. A recent Microsoft survey of managers yielded the same result: 82% said they will have more flexible work-from-home policies after the pandemic.
By now, 70% of Americans have experienced the benefits of working from home. With limited childcare options and schools going remote, the situation looks different than it could in the future. Not all work can be performed remotely, and women will always face many challenges in trying to balance competing goals. But the prospect of greater workplace flexibility is a bright spot that I can cherish from a difficult year, and something that I hope more Americans get the option to enjoy.