It’s not news to anyone that workplaces are changing faster now than during any other time in modern history. What slowly started as an evolution of work environments facilitated by radically different technology was supercharged by a pandemic that has made most companies figure out, almost overnight, how to work together in a world where we cannot physically be together.
The first round of questions employers asked were largely logistical: How do teams communicate? When can we schedule Zoom meetings that will work for attendees in 4 different time zones? But as the months have worn on, the questions have transformed from “How do we do business during a pandemic?” to more general, systemic, and even existential questions about how we work and how we show up as people in professional spaces — especially now that those spaces are more fluid, quickly changing, and come with fewer concrete rules and norms than ever before.
As a community for working moms who both work for businesses and run their own, we spend a lot (a lot) of time thinking about the nuances of how we conduct ourselves at work, how we contribute to building the work culture of the workplaces we’re in, and what the best possible working world looks like, especially for working moms. Given that just about every standard for how we work has been upended in the last 18 months, we’re looking at this window of time as a space of opportunity. Things are changing and will surely never look the same again. In a world where working moms are historically very disadvantaged in the workplace, things “never looking the same again” can be a profoundly good thing — if we’re very intentional about where the new normal lands.
With this in mind — the opportunity of this moment, combined with the pressure to get it right for working moms — we recently spoke with Allison Rutledge-Parisi, SVP of the People Team at Justworks, who had a lot of brilliant insight into… all of this.
How do you see the workplace changing?
The workplace was already undergoing a shift driven by the impact of digital work capabilities, and the shifting norms of the emerging workforce.
The workplace is becoming more personal, with the divide between personal and professional increasingly porous. Employees expect their workplace to respond more fully to personal beliefs and needs. Employees also often consider the purpose of the organization as central to whether they wish to join the organization. Companies are expected to take positions on topics that were previously viewed as outside the professional realm. Similarly, employees bring their beliefs, needs, politics, and emotions to work more fully.
How many of these changes will be a direct result of Covid-19?
Many of these trends were already underway, but the pandemic has greatly accelerated the pace of change. As has been widely observed, the sudden move to remote work for most professional workers further eroded any boundary between work and home. At the same time, the surge in focus on racial and social justice means that workers had a heightened sense that their organizations should be responding to these issues — and organizations responded by issuing statements and position papers where previously they might have stayed silent out of a sense of “professionalism.”
What do you think could potentially hinder the workplace changing for the better?
Employee-favorable changes always suffer in an economic downturn. Wide economic constraints limit the ability of employees to demand change.
What changes do you wish would have occurred before you entered the workforces?
The strength of the current focus on diversity and inclusion would have been welcome earlier. In the past, professional environments would require the construction of a “professional self” that was removed from real emotions, responses and relationships. This professional construct could create internal stress for developing professionals who then had a double burden: learning their jobs while “acting the part.” There was less room to admit vulnerability, experience of stress, or to ask for space to learn and develop rather than deliver instant perfection. That made work a more exhausting place to inhabit, especially for those whose identities and responsibilities were not at the center of the white, male, heterosexual, professional norm. At least in the technology and entrepreneurial sectors, it is beginning to be more possible to make room for one’s actual needs and experiences. This is an emerging trend, however, that is available only to knowledge workers in a white collar setting.
The notion of seeing excellence through diversity was marginal for my early working years. There was also little recognition of the concept of intersectionality. The recognition that exclusion and bias can run across socioeconomic status as well as racial and ethnic background was not as well understood (though there is still much progress needed here).
Another welcome trend is the emerging recognition that there are varied paths to excellence beyond elite education, and, in fact, a candidate who overcame challenges to their education and training — achieving an associate’s degree, attending a local, less-expensive college, coming from the military — may have an edge in grit, resilience, and problem-solving over someone whose education was solely through elite institutions.
What changes specifically need to happen in order to make sure the workplace is a more equitable environment for parents and caregivers?
Of course needs vary for each stage of parenting. Family formation (birth or adoption) requires significant time away from work for all parents. Raising a child will often require flexibility in schedule and remote work (and this is true through adolescence, which can be more demanding than the preschool phase).
In addition, the workplace may need to acknowledge that accommodating the needs of working parents imposes burdens on colleagues. So ideally, putting some reward or accommodation in place for the colleagues who adjust their workloads to support working parents is an additional needed change.
Do you think those changes should include bringing children into the workplaces? Why or why not?
Not all parents want their children at work. It can be exhausting to split focus between the immediacy of children’s needs and demands of work. So, rather than focusing on the ability to take children to work, the better course is to develop options such as emergency childcare resources nearby, flexible schedules with the ability to work from home as needed, and — yes — a welcoming environment on those occasions when a parent really has no choice other than to bring their child to work with them.
What needs to happen in order for these changes to actually take place?
Positive change requires a favorable economic environment. A strong economy with a tight labor market, such as we have now, is a great time to shift norms,. Once established, these changes often endure even when the talent market is less competitive, since it is hard to take away a policy once it is in place and operational.
At this moment, the odds are in favor of change. The talent market is tight, and the economy is, in many segments (though not all), still strong.
To state the obvious, norms benefitting working parents mostly arise in white collar settings where work can be done remotely. For blue collar, hourly workers, the road to these changes is much more difficult and will often require external pressure such as government regulation.
How is Justworks committed to leading the way in making sure these changes actually take place?
Justworks currently provides paid parental leave for up to 18-20 weeks. This leave is available regardless of gender identification or sexual orientation.
Justworks is committed to the flexibility needed to accommodate the needs of working parents. Justworks provides unlimited PTO, a useful policy for parents raising children. In addition, even pre-Covid, Justworks had a “work from anywhere” policy that could be deployed when parents needed to work remotely. Justworks will continue to provide flexibility as we return to office (currently scheduled for March 2022).
These policies are under constant review as we seek ways to improve support for working parents. The Justworks Working Parents Employee Resource Group has been instrumental in escalating the concerns around childcare, such as developing emergency childcare close to the office and extending parental leave periods. There is more to come on these important policies.