In her impassioned, desperate diatribe on the increasingly untenable position of working parents—caught between work and child care in the reopening economy—food writer Deb Perelman asks her readers two incredulous questions:
"Why isn't anyone talking about this? Why are we not hearing a primal scream so deafening that no plodding policy can be implemented without addressing the people buried by it?"
As it turns out, those primal screams were waiting patiently for Deb Perelman to lead them in unison. Within minutes of her article going live in the business section of The New York Times, thousands of users on Twitter were sharing the link accompanied by choice quotes like, "Allowing workplaces to reopen while schools, camps and day cares remain closed tells a generation of working parents that it's fine if they lose their jobs, insurance and livelihoods in the process."
As Perelman's article makes clear, while law-makers and government officials have arranged plans to ensure that economic conditions return to normal as quickly as possible for wealthy business owners, there has been little apparent concern for how reopening measures would affect families with school-age children.
I released the primal scream that we -- and countless other parents for whom this situation isn't just untenable, i… https://t.co/o0XVE1JGvg— deb perelman (@deb perelman) 1593697918.0
In Perelman's case, living in New York City, this lack of consideration reached a breaking point when she became aware of current plans for the fall school term. In order to ensure that each student is afforded a minimum of 65 square feet of classroom space, only a third of students will be in the school building in any given week—the other two thirds learning remotely.
For the time being, while the science on how COVID-19 is contracted and spread by children remains unclear, these sorts of measures are seen as necessary to prevent sudden, overwhelming spikes in the infection rate. But for parents like Perelman and her husband, this means that two weeks out of every three, their children—one approaching kindergarten, the other entering 6th grade—will need to be home.
The fact that Perelman's husband is among the tens of millions who have been laid off during the COVID-19 lockdown has made it possible to maintain child care while Perelman works from home, setting her own exhausting hours.
But what happens to them and countless other parents who are struggling to keep their children educated and supervised when he is rehired or forced to start looking for a new job? How are they supposed to pay their bills and take care of their children?
The problem is obviously even worse for parents who may not have had the option—like Perelman—to work from home, or haven't had the resources to maintain their children's education with online tutors and extra school supplies.
Here's what schools could look like this fall amid pandemic l GMA www.youtube.com
As Perelman points out, these and other issues with remote learning have already affected student outcomes and have likely expanded the existing achievement gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines. But those issues are certain to get worse as more and more parents are forced to return to work without viable child care options.
While the wealthy will be fine, many in the middle class (particularly mothers) will be forced to choose their children over their long-term career plans. And as for poor and working class parents, far too many will have no choice at all—will have to keep working and leave their children unsupervised.
While the proximate cause of this mess is obviously the coronavirus pandemic gripping the world and requiring adaptive measures to counter its spread, there is a deeper issue that can be tied—as with so many societal problems—to the structure of capitalism.
It's the same problem that English philosopher Bertrand Russell pointed out in his essay "In Praise of Idleness". It's the same problem that recurs on a near constant basis in our society, but it's most evident in the aftermath of a crisis: At every opportunity to give workers more freedom, we instead choose to increase productivity.
When Russell published the essay in 1932, he had in mind the aftermath of World War I, when soldiers returned home from the front, effectively doubling the workforce.
As he notes, living standards and productive industry had been maintained throughout the war thanks to mechanization and thoughtful planning. The populous remained fed and clothed and housed despite the loss of so many workers to the war.
Less work was needed to achieve the same outcome, which meant that—when those workers finally returned—there was the option to allow everyone to work half as much and still make a living wage.
NYC has an elaborate four-phase reopening plan that doesn’t even mention daycare lol https://t.co/vGAq9GQszJ— Jason Schreier (@Jason Schreier) 1593698748.0
But no. Instead productivity was increased, workers were laid off, and it was still necessary to work 40 hours a week to get by. And that's where things in England, the US, and much of the world remain to this day.
The same dynamic was in play in the second half of the 20th century as it became the norm for women to join the workforce. There were twice as many workers, but rather than cut the work week in half, we kept it at 40 hours, increased productivity, and allowed wages to stagnate so that two incomes were soon necessary for a basic standard of living—and working mothers were still expected to perform traditional child care duties.
We've invented so many machines and systems to make our work lives more efficient and our home lives more convenient, but instead of framing these advances as opportunities to increase our freedom—to reduce the work week to 20 hours, as Russell suggests, and give workers the opportunity to redirect their energy toward their passions and interests, we treat them as tools to increase profit for those at the very top.
They replace workers with automation and outsourcing and pay those who remain less while investors and executives rake in more. Because growth of investment is the ultimate ideal driving the whole machine—even if that machine is wringing the life out of workers and the planet alike.
Right now around half of working-age Americans aren't working. The work force is set to return in a big way in coming months—just as it did after WWI. If we shifted our priorities toward a more humane objective, we could see this crisis and the aftermath not as another occasion to benefit the wealthy and push working people to their limit, but as an opportunity to increase the freedom and the happiness in the world.
We need universal child care. https://t.co/qu6BVe4E9q— Jamaal Bowman (@Jamaal Bowman) 1593694704.0
Shift to a 30-hour work week (without reducing pay) and give workers—especially working parents—some flexibility for when they work those hours. Suddenly child care and home-schooling wouldn't be nearly such an overwhelming burden. Better still, provide them with that child care. Suddenly workers would have energy left over to find new ways to thrive—rather than only surviving.
It may seem far-fetched, but changes like this have happened before when workers were united. The only thing preventing it now is that we haven't all joined our voice with that primal, deafening scream and demanded what we deserve.
Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.
What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.
The rising trend of pet-friendly offices is part of the effort to incentivize employees to come back to work in person. Many companies completely embraced the remote-friendly convenience of WFH. Digital nomad culture emerged and “second cities” arose when people exited New York, San Francisco, and LA, and headed to Denver, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh.
But now, employees and employers have a choice to make. The question now is: to return or not to return to the office? This is no longer about forcing employees to commute. Post The Great Resignation, employees feel more empowered to leave in-person positions and seek out remote jobs. So if offices want people to return, they’ve got to do a ton to entice their employees.
Some huge companies with giant operating budgets are not worried. With major perks like shiny facilities and full-service food bars, they feel comfortable requiring in-office work days — even if it’s for a hybrid week. But the solution might be simpler: pet-friendly workplaces.
The Allure of Pet-Friendly Offices
According to the Washington Post, pet-friendly workplaces are becoming a common solution to improve employee morale and appease the rising number of pandemic pet owners. “As offices start reopening and thousands of workers are being called back for the first time in two years, some companies are allowing employees to bring their pets. About 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many workers say they find pet-friendly environments an important perk for their new furry family members. A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57 percent of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. Tech companies including Google, Amazon, and Uber plan to continue to allow dogs at their offices, even with their flexible office policies.”
With so many people adopting and fostering since the pandemic, becoming a pet parent is a trend. And to welcome these new additions into people’s lives, it makes sense for some workplaces to welcome them into the office.
After spending unlimited amounts of time at home, many pets grew greatly attached to their “parents” — and pet-parents feel the same about their pets. Rather than keeping them locked in the house while their caretakers head off to work, this is a mutually beneficial solution to the current separation anxiety faced by pets.
Pets have also been shown to boost happiness in pet owners. According to heart.org, “Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.” Most likely, this might have a similar effect on people who bond with animals at work that don’t even belong to them, lending an overall mood boost to the office.
The controversy behind pet-friendly workplaces
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the prospect. Some would rather keep the office separate from their personal lives. Some are allergic to pets. And some people simply don’t like animals.
Offices considering pet-friendly policies are weighing the pros and cons to keep everyone happy. According to the Washington Post, clear guidelines and communication can increase the chances of success.
“Before making the jump, pet experts say that leaders should first understand whether their employees have interest in, or strong feelings against, having a pet-friendly office. Doing an anonymous survey may allow employees to freely share thoughts on the matter.”
Overall, the key to a policy like this is flexibility. “Be ready to adjust: Above all, pet-friendly offices should be ready to listen and adjust their policies as they go. What works for one office may not work for another, but experts say proper planning can lessen much of the burden.”
Ensure your office is actually suited to the pets you want to welcome. “A well-developed pet-friendly office should be both safe and welcoming to pets. That means companies should consider blocking off areas that could be dangerous to pets as well as making sure pets have access to clean water, food, and places to rest.”
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