Working moms and dads and their kid audiences
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
This week, a lawsuit was filed in San Diego from a mom of a 4 year old and 1 year old, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination. You see, she like many others had to pivot quickly in March to work from home and adjust to working with small kids in her home during the workday. She alleges that her boss, other supervisors, and HR were unduly harsh on her time availability during the day, gave her urgent projects that really weren't, and were dismissive to her voiced concerns. She was exited from the company with the reason being a decrease in corporate revenues, but she believes that to be false.
It's easy to look at a mom juggling work and two preschoolers at home and think that the alleged messages and behaviors of management at her former employer are far out of line. I agree that the circumstances as presented are ridiculous! But before we scoot off of this story as one where management is out of touch and out of line, there are a few lessons we can pluck out and remember within our own management roles:
Go ahead and define your business needs. You're absolutely allowed to have them, and you are allowed to hold your workforce to those standards. California employment lawyer Dan Eaton is quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune as saying, "The same legal rules that apply when someone is on site apply when they are working remotely. Those include rules related to harassment and compensation. They also however include rules related to the prerogative that an employer has to manage work practices and how the work gets done.” If you define and communicate those standards ahead of any given situation, then enforcement of the standards will be less personal and antagonistic. Make sure your standards are bona fide and have some rationale behind them, and push yourself to give latitude and generosity where you can (example: does a report need to really be done by 5 pm, or can that report be sent across at any time prior to the 8 am morning meeting to discuss it?)
What are your typical communication channels, and why? Companies and teams can communicate and connect verbally over the phone, visually through services like Zoom, over email, over text, over Slack. Besides the fact that Zoom fatigue is a real thing, there are several other reasons that moving more of your communications to email or Slack might be the way to go. First, there is less time specificity to attending to an email or a Slack post than to be on the right audio or video call at the right time. Do you really need everyone to engage at the exact same time? How are different time zones being incorporated? Second, the participants have a written record of what was needed and what was conveyed as a refresher....not everybody is 100% mentally sharp at all times nowadays. And third, for those colleagues who are home with preschool kids (or have a lawnmower going in the background, or have a deliveryperson ringing the doorbell and dropping off a parcel), there is no sound distraction within written communication channels.
Watch your phrases. Even though we got to these various work locations abruptly in March (for the most part), some form of distribution of our work centers is here for the long haul. Let's all be careful about the phrases we use to describe where people are working. "Working from home" or "remote work" have an inherent caste system effect, where there are the stalwarts who are in the office or at headquarters, and then there are the others who are....away. Better phrases are ones like "virtual team" or "distributed team" which evens out the playing field as to location. That also avoids use of elitist phrases like "working from my home office".....who wants to say in response that they are "working from a corner of my kitchen table"? If it doesn't matter where one is working, then wrap your language accordingly and stay neutral.
Fall 2020 may not get the kids out of the house. The kids are going to be staying home in large part in the fall. For school-age kids, districts around the country are starting to announce their plans, which include models like New York City's 1-3 days of week of in-school instruction and California schools being encouraged to get ready for 100% distance learning. For college-age kids, universities around the country continue to announce that courses will be substantially online in the Fall. And, for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, there are a lot of unknowns about how day cares will operate as they begin to open back up around the country. All in, as managers, we should expect to have kids be home for a significant proportion of time this Fall. If needed, getting your business standards built and communicated is even more important since kids will be in the mix for months to come. Your office re-entry planning will also be impacted.
There's a lot to think about to help minimize the chance that you and your company are in the news as being a bad actor against working parents. Drop me an email if you'd like some help figuring things out.