One hour a day: That’s the amount of time I’ll be spending with my kids if I accept a full-time, nine-to-five office-based job.
I wish that wasn’t an exaggeration, but when I factor in my kids’ 6 a.m. wake-up time and 7:30 p.m. bedtime and my three-hour commute each day, there’s only one measly hour left over. That’s one hour to make dinner, help my kids do their homework, talk about their day, play Lego Ninjago and mermaids and have some semblance of family bonding time before bathtime, storytime and bedtime. One hour.
For 6½ years, I was fortunate enough to have a job that allowed me to work from home a couple of days a week and work in a flexible environment where it was never an issue if I needed additional time to be at home. I was recently laid off and, as I search for something new in our current economic climate, I now realize just how lucky I’ve been.
Despite our glorious digital age, many employers view working from home as an “entitlement,” but working from home can be a lifesaver for many parents. Getting back the three hours that would be spent commuting each day isn’t a luxury. It would mean that my children wouldn’t have to wake up before the sun is up and eat breakfast bars in the car, dropping crumbs everywhere and wiping their sticky hands on my cream seats while I sit outside the school waiting for the daycare to open so that I can drop them off at 7 a.m. and rush to the station to catch my train into the city.
It would mean that, when I show up at 5:45 to pick them up, they won’t be sitting at the front of the school, dressed and ready, little faces waiting anxiously, while daycare workers shove them out the door as soon as they see me so that they, too, can get home to their kids. Working from home would mean that my kids could get more sleep and I would avoid notes home from the teacher saying that my son is having trouble focusing in class.
As work continues to bleed into life outside the office, all employees, whether they’re parents or not, need more flexibility. With emails flying back and forth at all hours about pressing deadlines and deliverables, there has to be something in return for employees. If employers want engaged staff, employees have to be able to do their jobs in a way that also works with their lives.
Does it really matter whether I make a call from the office or home as long as I get the job done? Does it really make sense for me to trek 1½ hours one way to work so that I can sit in an office and create a PowerPoint deck? Does it really matter when we have video conferencing, Skype, telephones, Internet and every other technological advancement that makes immediate connectivity and even tracking possible?
A strong and clear work-from-home policy is a lifeline for employees, especially parents. If you’re not stressed over making daycare pickup times, catching late trains, sitting in traffic or being able to pop by your kids’ school because they forgot their lunches, then you have more energy and time to dedicate to your job. It’s just good HR.
I want to be available and present for my kids. There’s no way I could cram that into one hour. And the thing is, there’s good data that show that flexible work hours have clear benefits for employers and employees. According to Business Review Canada, telecommuting cuts down on traffic during peak hours, reduces companies’ real estate costs and improves employee morale, leading to less turnover.
Research conducted at Stanford University indicates that employees who work from home are sick less often, happier in their roles and less likely to look for new employment opportunities. In fact, according to a 2013 Rogers Connected Workplace Report, “One-third of Canadians [33 percent] say they would sacrifice something [including salary, vacation days and employee benefits] to work remotely. More than half [59 percent] agree that, in the future, flexible work hours and the ability to work from anywhere will be top priorities in the choice of employer.”
Whether my kids are picked up at 3:30 or 6 p.m., I know that they will be fine. They may be tired, homework may be a challenge and rushing to soccer may be exhausting, but they will be fine. Really, this is about me and what kind of parent I want to be. It’s about our society and what kind of community we want to be. Do we want to be a society where spending one hour a day with our children is the norm? In a new era in which parental leave is being extended to two years, perhaps it’s also time to look at legislation that recognizes and accommodates the flexibility that working parents need.
I want to work, and I want to continue to use my skills. But I want flexible work, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.