The Pandemic Didn’t Ruin Remote Work

Smiling man holds smiling child.
I’d like to think this is a parent making the best of things on a Zoom call. Image by Gabby K from Pexels

Feeling weird about seeing this piece pop up on a Thursday? Me too! Unfortunately, WordPress decided saving changes wasn’t a thing and I had to rewrite the whole article. Not cool WordPress, not cool.

How Did the Pandemic Impact Remote Work? An Analysis of Buffer’s 2021 Report

Buffer’s State of Remote Work is part survey, part data analysis. It’s a high-quality report that has been taking the pulse of remote workers since 2018. The entire thing is worth reading, but let’s spend a little time analyzing a couple of specific data points.

Specifically, if COVID is the reason you’re working from home, how does your home life impact your perception of remote work?

Where Are All the Single Ladies (And Laddies)?

The majority of survey respondents reside in the US and UK, where 28% of the population live in single-person households (Source: Gov.UK and Census.gov). It’s likely that some of those folks answered this survey. Sadly, Buffer didn’t ask respondents if they live alone. Humans are social creatures and it would have been interesting to see if the answer to the question “what’s your biggest struggle with working remotely” changed based on household makeup. If I could add a question to Buffer’s next Stae of Remote Work, this would be it.

Widespread vaccination will (hopefully) end the need for social distancing in the latter half of 2021. But the relationship between household size and perception of remote work is relevant going forward. If nothing else, if you live alone and are considering remote work, this information can help you craft a plan to get your daily human contact from other areas in your life.

Parents Didn’t Pan Remote Work

Truthfully, I thought that parents would NOT want to work remotely once it’s safe to go back to the office. Trying to work and parent while locked down is tough. As Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “27% of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, and 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children.”

And yet, 96% of total respondents who started to work remotely due to COVID say they want to continue doing so, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. This is only a drop of 1.6% as compared to last year.

My first thought was that parents weren’t represented in this survey. However, thirty-five percent of the respondents identified as parents or caregivers. According to an analysis done by The Washington Post, “About 41 percent of [American] workers between the ages of 20 and 54 have a child at home.” Since Buffer combines parenting and caregiving into one category, parents are likely under-represented in their survey. However, it’s fair to say that enough parents took the survey to affect the results.

The benefits of remote work must outweigh the trauma of working and parenting in the same locked-down space. Let’s look at what respondents had to say about this.

Losing the Commute Is The Biggest Win

‘Not having to commute’ was the biggest benefit (28%) for respondents who started working remotely due to COVID. ‘Ability to have a flexible schedule’ and ‘flexibility to work from any location’ rounded out the top three slots.

On the surface, the answer seems self-evident. If you lose your commute you get all of that time back. That’s great for everybody. However, parents aren’t necessarily feeling the full effects of that benefit during the pandemic. Remember that most respondents live in the US or UK, where the majority of children were out of (in person) school for months. Some districts–like many in California–have yet to go back to in-person teaching. So all of that “extra” time is going to schoolwork or childcare duties.

Parents might recognize that working from home would give them more time in a post-pandemic world. We can’t say that they are conflating losing the commute with more family time. Buffer has a separate question for that. Only 11% of newly remote workers cited spending time with family as the biggest benefit. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.

What’s Missing in the Traditional Office Space

We asked ‘what remote work benefits outweigh the trauma of working and parenting from home in a pandemic?’ Instead, let’s think about what parents need that is missing from a traditional office.

I talk to a lot of people who worke remotely. And with the parents, especially, the conversation invariably turns to how we’re managing under the current crisis. Working and parenting and homeschooling all at the same time is rough, but at least remote work lets you parent badly while earning a paycheck. Parents who can’t work remotely have to choose between leaving their kids home alone, sending them into settings where they might catch COVID, or giving up their income.

Office spaces aren’t family-friendly. Many companies refer to themselves as families, but it’s a family that doesn’t include kids. We live in an age where eating at your desk, staying late, and generally giving your all to your company is how you get ahead. If eating an unhurried lunch is sketchy, what happens if you need to deal with an issue at your kid’s school?

Remote workers have to make themselves visible in order to be top of mind when promotions and stretch assignments get handed out. But that lack of visibility has an up side.

You can take care of family obligations during dead time at work without someone questioning your commitment. And that is a large benefit for parents who want to grow their careers.

What Does This Mean for Business Leaders?

A recent PWC survey shows that business leaders are more bullish about returning to a traditional office than employees. It also shows CEOs think companies do a better job at helping employees navigate childcare challenges than employees do.

Leadership needs to think long and hard before trying to reinstitute business as usual. When office workers went home to work and parent in the same space, not one company died because someone had to hold a toddler during a business meeting. Instead, we all learned to work around each other’s messy lives. The pandemic proved what many of us already knew. Caring for a family isn’t antithetical to driving business results. Let’s take this hard-earned learning and create business cultures that live in balance with an employee’s life.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

For first time blog readers, this is the space where I share links to other articles I’ve written across the web.

In early February the president of the Tokyo Olympics committee made a statement that meetings with women take too much time. I took exception to this and wrote a satirical list of why he might think so. He later resigned. Did this happen because of my crushing expose? I’ll let you be the judge.

In mid-February I teamed up with talented comedian and cartoonist Cassie Soliday to write this piece entitled Pandemic Looks for Fashion Week. That whole bit about business on the top and athleisure on the bottom is my actual work wardrobe, though I definitely wear my shirt buttoned, unlike the model pictured.

I have three other pieces that have been accepted various places, but they don’t come out until mid to late March. I’ll share them at that point.

The Art of Not Gathering

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels Alt text: Little girl wearing a virtual reality headset, arms out for a hug.

I dream about sitting at my Grandpa Pete’s table. Grandpa Pete is my maternal grandfather, and growing up, his was the house we went to when we hung out with my mom’s side of the family. Grandpa Pete and Grandma Bea are the sort of people who keep their house ready for visitors to drop by. You could call him at noon on a Tuesday, and when you showed up at five with a six pack of beer and a pasta salad, he’d have the chips and salsa set out, and beans and rice warming on the stove. I learned how to host gatherings by watching my grandparents work a room.

Every year, the week before Thanksgiving, my family gathers at Grandpa Pete’s to make tamales. We buy masa preparada–prepared masa–from a specific Mexican grocery store because we aren’t masochists, but otherwise make tamales from scratch. My grandparents always made the fillings ahead of time, so when you walked in the door, you were hit with the smell of chilies and corn, pork and oregano.

This year, there’s no tamale party. And I couldn’t go visit in any case. My grandpa is in his eighties, and my kids are in school. The risk is too great. Instead, I watch videos on how to make my own masa harina from dried heirloom corn and dream about visiting when I’m vaccinated in the summer.

How are you doing? Are you travelling to see family or friends for American Thanksgiving? Canada had Thanksgiving in October, and we’ve seen an exponential rise in cases in the weeks following that holiday. I’m going to take a harm reduction approach and give you a link to an article in The Atlantic that gives strategies for making a risky action safer if you choose to travel and gather with family this coming Thursday.

Working On: A Remote Work Article

A little over a week ago someone asked me for advice about online parties. This person was tasked with throwing a team party over Zoom and had no idea what to do. I gave an off the cuff answer and then realized that I have a better, more researched answer that I should give. I’m working on that article now and hope to have it up for you soon.

If you’re looking to answer more existential questions, like why are many gatherings so bad, check out Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. I borrowed it from the library after the fine folks over at Workplaceless talked about the book in a recent blog post. I’m only a chapter into the book but I’m impressed so far. I’ve definitely gone to events that felt alienating for no reason. I’m hoping to learn some tips to keep that from happening to anyone else when I throw parties. Because I dearly love to throw a party–online and off.

Procrastination is Magical

There’s nothing more inspiring for my writing than procrastination. If I’m feeling blocked with one type of writing, I can get over it by diving into a different type of writing. My inner toddler feels like it’s getting away with something. You could say that most of my work is fuelled by manic glee.

I was feeling a little blocked in the nonfiction and comedy departments, so I dove head first into writing a Fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. I did that for the first two weeks of November before I ran out of glee at 28 thousand words. My creativity compensated me for this loss with a whole bunch of ideas for comedy and nonfiction articles. It was like being hit with a firehose of shiny distractions. (I realize this metaphor only works if you squint really hard, but let’s go with it).

I’m not saying it makes a lot of sense. I’m just saying it works. You should try it sometime. Something similar happened in October, which is why I can present the following comedy pieces for your reading pleasure.

Comedy Articles

If People Appropriated White, Midwestern Catholicism the Way They Appropriate Yoga is up at Points in Case. A few years back, a Buddhist friend from India mentioned how off putting it was to attend her first week of college classes in Vancouver, only to be asked to hold a church session (yoga) before they talked about research methods. That comment stayed with me ever since.

Are You Parenting a Toddler or Napoleon? is up at Slackjaw. I love writing lists because you can be clever about the things you’re comparing. And really, toddlers are little Napoleons. Put them in a French officer’s uniform and give them a hat and a sword and they’d probably take over Europe.

Should You Fly on the Boeing 737? A Flow Chart was one of two pieces I wrote last week and published in Greener Pastures Magazine, the comedy magazine I co-edit. There might be a worse time to clear an airplane for flight than the Pandemic, but I’m not sure when that is. I will not be applying my butt to one of their seats any time soon.

Incidentally, if you write comedy I’d love to consider it for publication. Give our submission guidelines a once over for all the info.

Speaking Gigs

I have an upcoming virtual keynote for a summit based in Australia. I was a little worried that I would have to try to sound articulate at 3am. It’s hard enough for me to filter my words before 9 in the morning. I’m not sure there’s enough caffeine in the world to make me make sense between the hours of 11pm-6am. Fortunately my portion will be pre recorded. I’m tempted to open my home office window and shout “I’m huge in Australia!” Instead I’ll share the link when the summit goes live in January.

I’m excited about getting a link to share. The majority of my keynotes have been for private companies. I hope you get something out of it.