By Helen Reddy Katz, Family Care Advisor
Family Care Office, University of Toronto
[Four minute read]
Last month, I was invited by UofT Career Exploration & Education to take part in a session of their Identities @ Work series designed for student caregivers. I was excited to take part, not only due to my passion for parenting/caregiving-related conversations as an advisor within the Family Care Office, but also as family-friendly employment is a hot topic right now as people return to their workplaces post-pandemic. The last three years have changed people’s priorities and the way we look at work-life balance. Although many workplaces have returned to the office, many others have stayed remote. For many workplaces, like mine, the answer lies somewhere in-between.
In my position, I am fortunate to have a hybrid alternative work arrangement which requires me to be in the office three days a week. I am also fortunate to have a partner with a similar arrangement. We recognize that having these positions is a privilege as we both work for employers that offer hybrid work, and in positions that allow for this arrangement.
As parents to four elementary school-aged children, the benefits of having work from home days are exponential. Even though we live within Toronto, west of the Scarborough boundaries, we must factor an hour each way for commuting door-to-door in both directions. Between the two of us in our current hybrid work arrangements, this translates to 10 hours per week that we get to spend directly with our children that we would not have had while both commuting five days a week. It allows us to complete minimal household tasks during work breaks, such as loading the dishwasher and washing machine, and basic meal prep, that would otherwise add up. It also lowers our spending (less parking/transit costs and minimal childcare), allowing for both time and money for extracurricular involvement and family outings. We are home to support homework before supper and evening routines begin.
We arrange our days such that we take our lunch breaks at school dismissal time and thus have an opportunity to get direct updates from teachers and connect with other parents at the school. Overall, not only do we feel more connected to our families, but we also feel more connected to our school and community than we ever did when we commuted downtown daily. I joined the parent council executive and got involved in ways that would not have been possible pre-pandemic.
While articles continue to pop up showing evidence that the workforce has not returned at the expected rate to the downtown core causing business to suffer, no one seems to be highlighting the fact that neighbourhoods at its periphery, like mine, are alive with cafes and shops benefitting from their new non-commuting customer base (Workers haven’t returned to downtown Toronto as remote work becomes new normal (blogto.com)).
I know I am not alone in seeing the benefits of flexible work arrangements. Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employer list includes flexible work arrangements and paid personal days in its criteria alongside parental leave and daycare assistance. The Moms at Work collective, Canada’s first professional organization for working mothers, exploded in popularity during the pandemic. The organization runs a job board reserved for family-friendly employers who exhibit parent-friendly policies and those that specifically benefit women – pay transparency and flexible or remote work arrangements being at the forefront (There’s a new job board for moms where salary is included on every post – Today’s Parent).
While many workers preferred the flexibility of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic, parents – especially mothers – saw the greatest benefit, as they also took on most childcare duties during that time. Today, moving into a post-pandemic era, the majority of women polled cited flexible work arrangements as still being crucial to work life balance (The pandemic changed how we work. Now, mothers want it to stay that way | CBC News).
Three years ago, in February 2020, I felt ready to take on the world. I had completed my Master of Education the year before and shortly after gave birth to my daughter, completing my family. I was returning from parental leave with plans to launch my career and take on new opportunities. Next thing I knew, I was locked in a house with three squirrelly little boys, a clingy nursing toddler and a demanding full-time job, all whilst wiping down groceries and hunting for toilet paper. As virtual school continued, I remember thinking that I was being launched back to the 1950s. The future of work as a mother seemed grim at best.
If someone had had a crystal ball on some of those dark days to show me a future in which I could sometimes be at home while my children went to school, some things that worked virtually would stay that way and my family would have a balance we could not have dreamed of before, I do not know if I would have believed it. But now that it is here, parents have repeatedly expressed the same sentiments: flexibility works, benefits families and allows for more equitable opportunities for those with family responsibilities in today’s workforce.
Let us hope it is here to stay.