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Han-Son Lee



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Flexible working: how will the pandemic impact working parents in the long term?

Can we create a ‘new normal’ for working parents after the pandemic is over?

It would be an understatement to say that we’re living in unprecedented times. A substantial part of our workforce has suddenly been thrust into remote working. It’s tempting for advocates of flexible working to think of this time some kind of nirvana with regards to remote working progress – one that will shape the future of work and push this agenda forward in years to come.

This period can be one of great change, as long as we understand and overcome the true challenges, while embracing the real opportunities.

For some it has already had a positive effect in that regard – in particular the parents of pre-school children – where this time will have triggered great reflection on the work/life balance they really want to achieve in their lives. That’s the positive news.

In truth though, for most working parents this period is anything but ideal. Why? It’s because:

Home-schooling + remote working = constantly shifting parental guilt

Most fathers I hear from in the DaddiLife community are telling me the same thing – that they are feeling like they’re in a ‘no win’ situation right now. Trying to balance the needs of home educating their children with the shifting needs of their work teams is simply not possible, so something has to give.  Unfortunately, it’s often the children and the only real winners are the TV networks and streaming services, it seems.

What this has left behind is a sea of parents weighed down heavily by their guilt – a guilt that is likely to be invisible to most employers. Parental guilt is doing nothing for mental health problems across the UK, already exacerbated by all of us having to stay in our homes.

Those in the working population that do actually function better with some time in a physical workspace are also not benefiting from the new stringent needs. It’s taken all of us a little time to come to terms with the ‘always on’ nature of Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Slack, and various other ways of keeping us connected professionally.

A new normal?

This period can be one of great change, as long as we understand and overcome the true challenges, while embracing the real opportunities.

When we conducted our Millennial Dad at Work research with Deloitte last year, what was clear was the number of fathers who want to work differently, more flexibly, and in ways that represented a generational shift from previous beliefs and notions of fatherhood.

In fact, of more than 2000 working fathers we surveyed, nearly 63% had requested some form of flexible working – either changing hours, compressed hours, working from home or job sharing – since becoming a father. The percentage of those who had these requests accepted was far lower. For example, 14% had requested to work from home one to two days per week, but of those, less than one in five (19%) had this requested granted. Until that picture changes, we will be at a considerable distance from a thriving future at work for parents. So what do we need to do to drive that change?

1. Celebrating the real successes

Work is hectic, life is hectic. How do we ensure that when normality is resumed that remote working isn’t just seen as that time where the whole country stayed home? We need to be acutely aware of what successes we are creating and make a record of them.

Did you help create and steer a new plan while working remotely? Did you inspire a new way of thinking? Or even create a new product or service? These are all fine examples that we need to capture.

Not only will these be vital for parents who want to make their remote working official, but it’ll also share the right KPIs for senior management to consider too – and the parts that really shaped the bottom line.

2. Gender balance – to include dads too

This has been a time where more families are spending time together – good and bad! Perhaps it’s shining a light on who’s really doing what and what needs to change. I see the impact of gender balance starting to play out across our homes and even across our consumption, but is it happening at work?

More and more modern day dads are hands-on at home (87% said they were fully involved in day to day parenting in our study). The same is also already happening in our consumption behaviour. It’s interesting that at a time where dads expectations for their own Father’s Day gifts have moved beyond just the basic ‘world’s best dad’ mug, that they haven’t yet been as expressive in work.

So how can we encourage that same gender balance discussion at work? If dads can be more vocal and start to showcase this need more clearly, that will be a vital first step. Many dads think this is a sign of vulnerability, but perhaps we need to be more vulnerable and be clearer in our desires.

3. Being more open about parental packages

The requirement in law to publish gender pay differentials has been a powerful tool to drive change and awareness of a workplace system that doesn’t serve the cause of retaining and promoting the best female talent.  

In 2018 the government announced that it planned to consult on a bill that would require large employers to publish their parental leave package. Transparency in this area would raise the bar for everyone. I hope this is the year where it becomes a reality. HR directors have a vital role to play in raising the transparency and openness of people progress in their organisations.

4. Keeping our culture alive, and maybe more

The very best organisations that I’ve encountered are challenging themselves on how they use this time to keep their culture alive, not just put more systems in place. In some places that’s as simple as a staff quiz. In others it’ll get more personal, but the point is if remote working means we can shine a different edge to our culture – one that everyone takes place in – then we are truly thriving.

This period will drive a number of different consequences for the future of work when it comes to working parents. The questions and scenarios parents now find themselves in are more intense than ever. It’s vital that we use this time and the lessons we are learning here to drive true positive change in the longer term.

Interested in this topic? Read Flexible working: why organisations must stop ignoring working fathers.

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Han-Son Lee


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