Remote work is here to stay. Bend down, employers.

Many working parents have experienced some version of these stressful scenarios: an essential meeting is happening, a subway is delayed, you’re stuck in traffic. The daycare pick-up deadline approaches, minutes tick by, and you’re trapped in a conference room, on the train, or in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, knowing you’ll be late. Some child care centers and centers will simply fine you for being late, while others have rules that if you’re too late too often, you could be kicked out of the program – a fair rule; child care workers must also leave work at a reliable time.

That frantic dash disappears when you can work remotely or more flexibly, when daycare is within walking distance or a short drive away, or when a parent can leave an office earlier in the day without penalty. There are a million other little pressures relieved by eliminating a mandatory daily commute, including costs, which may be worse now because of inflation, not having to lug expressed milk all over town if you’re a breastfeeding parent and the time spent in your day to eat more meals with your family — which we are told is essential to the well-being of our children.

I was thinking about all this and remembering several days of sweating on the F train when I read a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper titled “The Covid-19 Baby Bump,” which suggested that working at distance was among the factors that generated a baby boom in the United States in 2021. Indeed, remote work has reduced the opportunity costs – or what is given up – of motherhood for some workers. According to the report by economists Martha J. Bailey, Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt:

The underlying economic model of childbearing emphasizes the role of income effects and opportunity costs. Many women have seen little loss of income and even income gains from pandemic support programs. Yet fertility gains were concentrated in groups such as college-educated women who saw a drastic reduction in the opportunity cost of having a child, when they were able to work from home and working hours work have become more flexible. The reduction in opportunity costs may have been greater for childless women, who did not have to deal with the simultaneous loss of daycare and schooling opportunities for older children.

Cali Williams Yost, flexible workplace strategist and author of “Work + Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You,” told me in an email that while the journal doesn’t mention it, “Partners in mothers-to-be too, in many cases have had the same access to remote work and flexibility, which is a further reduction in the opportunity cost for mothers as they do not have to bear the burden alone.

The desire for remote and flexible working among parents is echoed in a recent report by Future Forum, an initiative of messaging app Slack. (Slack, of course, is one of the tools that makes working remotely easier.) The report, which describes itself as “a quarterly survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers in the United States, Australia, France , in Germany, Japan and the UK,” found that “83% of working mothers now want location flexibility,” while 60% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers “want to work remotely.” distance 3-5 days a week.” The report found that “Office workers are the least satisfied with their work arrangements: They report significantly lower employee experience scores than hybrid and full-time employees at distance, especially when it comes to work-life balance and work-related stress and anxiety. .”

Economists Edward Glaeser and David Cutler, more skeptical of remote work, argue that permanent remote work will hurt relationships, innovation and productivity. Writing for The Washington Post last year, they said, “People who switch to working from home may temporarily increase the amount of work they do in any given day. But in the medium to long term, remote employment may not provide the major benefits – including learning and new friendships – that come from face-to-face contact.

Their view seems to reflect an established view of the dynamics of the workplace, which predates the everyday electronic communication that is the backdrop to our modern lives. I worked remotely when I was 25, and I wonder if these esteemed economists ever struck up an instant messaging-based friendship — I’ve kept friends from that workplace to this day. Much of the connection and mentoring can happen remotely; it just takes an intentional arrangement and encouragement from management to make it happen. And working remotely doesn’t mean you can never, ever see your colleagues IRL. It just means that the pace of in-person work may be different.

In many ways, the old time-obsessed way of office work didn’t work particularly well for mothers, who sometimes lost face-to-face mentorship and networking opportunities anyway; we still do the majority of the childcare and we can’t always chat over drinks after work because the care demands come in. Companies of all types could be much more intentional about how mentoring opportunities are distributed, and a higher percentage of remote workers could compel companies to move in that direction.

“Complaints that remote work destroys company culture and inhibits mentorship are directly related to the fact that pandemic remote work was crisis-driven, not thoughtful and intentional implementation,” Yost said. “A well-executed flexible working strategy addresses from the start, ‘what do we need to do to grow the culture and nurture the talent?’ then determines “how, when and where to do it best based on the realities of our jobs and our lives?” It’s not left to chance.

Charlie Warzel, a friend, former Times colleague and co-author of “Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home”, told me via DM (see?) that he thinks workers might even be better connected with bosses and employees in a flexible environment. “Distributed work introduces friction for managers and they have to learn to manage people as people and not manage by proximity,” he said.

The point is not that there is anything wrong with working from a desk. There’s something good about working from home.

It is important to recognize that workers who can do their jobs remotely are a privileged group. Some jobs need to be customer-facing, and some jobs really need that in-person component to work well. It will also likely take years for the case for remote work to fully sink in with the people who have the power to make it the new normal. And giving workers with caregiving responsibilities the flexibility to manage their lives is a drop in the ocean in terms of what America should be doing to make this country truly family-friendly. But it is a very necessary start.

The New York Times

About Bernice Dyer

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