We need to talk about remote working

What’s wrong?

Even as people around the world mourn the passing of a giant who worked tirelessly to ensure better working conditions for the most vulnerable, we risk losing what Ms Ginsburg and so many other pioneers strived for if we don’t take immediate action. The sixth year of the ‘Women in Workplace’ report by McKinsey has unearthed some troubling statistics. 


This decade has seen impressive progress in the journey towards gender parity in the workplace but recent events have closed doors that were painstakingly opened. If more workplaces do not provide the kind of flexible working arrangements and support that their female staff have, the status quo set in motion will reverse these precious efforts. 


Courtesy of Pexel


Simply switching to remote working as most firms have done, is not enough. The erasing of set boundaries between workplace and home has led to employees feeling the need to be ‘always on’. Already more susceptible to burnout, the pandemic is especially hitting hard on women and women of colour. The report found that these groups were more likely to be furloughed. An adjustment of pre-pandemic expectations that have been modified to include a more realistic idea of what working parents can deliver due to school and other childcare institutions suddenly grinding to a halt is in order. It’s not surprising that women have had to step up to fulfil these roles and are considering dropping out of work, now more than ever, in the history of the study.


How can we fix it?

Let us not forget what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation”. The lack of measures in place to help working parents impacts men, as much as women, even if they are unlikely to be the ones who will be forced to put their careers on hold. Decades of research have established that women do more housework than men and the pandemic has not changed things. It is not hard to guess that these changes have affected single mothers the most. This group is much more likely to say that financial pressures are a concern during this precarious time. 


The ideal first step as this UNICEF report points out is to conduct a workplace review to see if the needs of working parents are being addressed, especially the more vulnerable amongst them – migrant, pregnant and differently-abled employees. When no two employees are the same, it is wrong to assume their needs would be. Which leads to the next point of action- open, honest communication between managers and employees that can facilitate efficiency and workplace satisfaction. These are extraordinary times so even delivering the ordinary target can be a tough mission. Fostering an environment that enables people to be frank about what they can and cannot deliver is key to maintaining good relations. 


It is important to start thinking of ‘flexible’ work arrangements in a more comprehensive way. It could just mean remote working or it could mean something more customised to ensure your business is still kept at the top of its game by employees happy to work there. Now more than ever, it is important to consider unique options as people are forced to make tough choices. Remember that though it only looks like women are the only affected party, men are forced to forego ideal outcomes as well, so any step taken helps everyone. 


Courtesy of Pexel


Last but not the least, this year has brought immeasurable losses to a lot of people who are dealing with higher levels of personal anxiety and workplace stress. Millions of parents are having to explain the carnage we are witnessing and an ideal work environment helps ensure that employees feel valued and able to cope with these additional stresses.


Some companies have reacted to these circumstances by making employee mental health a bigger priority, which will hopefully inspire others to do the same. The Women in Work report is right in pointing out that effective unconscious bias training for managers and those in charge of hiring will help attrition rates for employees who feel that they “cannot bring their full selves to work”. Year after year, research has shown that happier employees aren’t just more likely to stay on in the company but serve a huge asset in terms of innovation and productivity. It is time we do more to reap these benefits. 


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