Lockdown lessons – how to take this opportunity to rethink working practices

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With social distancing and travel restrictions here for the foreseeable future, working norms aren’t set to be the same again any time soon. That is, for those who can get much of their work done from home. And many are asking, do we want them to be?

Lockdown has thrown work and home roles into sharp relief for both women and men. As life starts to open up again, it’s a chance to stop and think what ‘new working normal’ you actually want. Click To Tweet

Our autopilots at home – employees  

For some, lockdown has highlighted just how much we can still default to out-dated gender role stereotypes. As one client told me, while her boss thinks she is ‘working from home’, she is also schooling, cleaning, cooking, organising the shopping, supporting her elderly relatives remotely plus trying to do her work in a noisy and distracting environment. She is exhausted and stressed. And is married to someone who is also working from home.

Of course that’s just one example but she’s not alone. Recent research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and University College London, and research by LeanIn.Org shows that in working couples in lockdown women have been doing more housework and childcare than the men, with the mothers being able to do just one hour’s uninterrupted work to the three hours by the fathers, and the women being more stressed.

Let’s hear it for the boys

As I explored in my previous blog, Let’s Hear It For the Boys, men don’t want to be locked into their role stereotypes either. I have another client with a nine-month-old baby who says he has just loved having this gift of time to spend with her for the last 3 months. For him, it’s been a revelation and it’s a commitment he wants to design into his future work arrangements.  As he said “I wouldn’t have missed the last three months for the world and I don’t intend missing them with any future children we have”.

Men doing more caring helps keep women advancing along the talent pipeline. And it would increasingly seem that they want to do it. In research from Business in The Community (BITC) over half (56%) the men said they would like to be more involved in their caring responsibilities. Yet they’re fighting against social biases too, as research from the Fawcett Society found that fathers are twice as likely as mothers to have requests for flexible working turned down.

Lockdown has given many the opportunity to reassess their work-home priorities and caring responsibilities and to step into whole new capabilities. Click To Tweet

For instance, one of my clients says her partner, also working from home in lockdown, has taken over the home-schooling of their 11-year-old daughter, which has been a big success for all of them.

Normal service please

For other professional women, this experience has shown them how much they like their ‘normal’ working environment thank you very much. They already had the work-home balance that worked for them and remote working and home demands have reinforced their preference for their original work design. One client has said she’s absolutely hated working from home, and feels guilty saying it while her other friends are waxing lyrical about the time spent as a family etc. She doesn’t feel that way. She loves her kids and her husband dearly but misses the clear delineation between work and home, the thinking time on her commute, the informal work chats that just don’t seem to happen on Zoom, the after work networking and the excitement and independence of work travel.

For another client, she acted quickly and was lucky enough to have the necessary resources to be able to maintain the working focus she and her husband knew they both wanted. As a professional couple in their early 40s with two children, as soon as lockdown was predicted, they negotiated with their nanny for her to move in to handle the childcare and home schooling during the crisis.

There is no right or wrong, it’s just different – so design your difference

All of these feelings and responses are legitimate. Lockdown made us all work from home by default, our challenge now is to learn from that experience so we can move forward by design. So in this period of disruption and pivots we should use this time to rethink how we do things, at home and at work.  To take this ‘unfrozen’ moment in our working life and practices to design, with intention, our own new normal while our employer is working on the same thing. This means you have done the work on what you want and need, so you can talk to your employer about what works for you and the business.

Our autopilots at work – employers

Technology for effective flexible working in the knowledge economy has been around for 20 years, yet many employers have been reluctant to embrace it other than as an accommodation to women with children or Fridays working from home (air quotes). Yet our current enforced remote working has proven that trusting people to get the work done and using great technology can work very well for business. Many have found that productivity has not been affected and, in fact, as already shown in research over many years, that flexible working including working from home increases productivity and discretionary effort and retention. Plus, they can see the advantages of cutting down travel and office space demands as they face social distancing requirements. Lockdown may potentially prove a game-changer for the acceptance of flexible working just because it has been a lived experience by those who were suspicious of it in the past.

Go back to work with intention

We have this strange frozen time when norms are unfreezing to try to be deliberate about how we go back to work. Moving out of such a long period ‘on pause’ is anxiety promoting, as is the anxiety about job security, so the overwhelming pull will be to the safety of how we were before.


take some time, time to decide what you want from the ‘new normal’ and how it impacts on the roles you play in life. Click To Tweet

Ask yourself:

  • What did you cherish about your previous working life that you missed in lockdown and you would like to find again?
  • What did you cherish about your time in lockdown?

Do both of the above as an individual AND as a parent, as a partner, as a husband, wife, mother, sister daughter, son-in-law, mother-in-law…but start with you.

Notice all the roles you played in lock down and which ones you loved, and didn’t, roles that were enhanced with the kind of time you had. You might have really missed brainstorming in the office, but not the lengthy commute or unnecessary meetings. You might have loved spending more time with your children, but hated carrying all the housework responsibility. You might have wished you had done more reading, or less Zooming. By recognising what you need, you can then start to talk with your partner and employer to find a way ahead that works for all.

Be creative as a couple  

If you are a couple then, as Jennifer Petriglieri highlights in her article How dual-career couples make it work, (and her great book, Couples Who Work), you both need to address and discuss your values, boundaries and fears to find the partnership basis that works for you both. And these change over time, so use this experience to step into the ‘new normal’ having spent some time taking from it what you would like to, and letting go of the things that didn’t work.

Ask one another those questions; What did you cherish? What did you learn about yourself and one another? What assumptions did we make about one another that didn’t serve that person or our partnership well? What was the biggest surprise? What did you resent? What possibilities excite you? Is there are new design to our personal and professional lives that we feel emboldened to live out?

This seismic shift in our working norms, that the lockdown and subsequent social distancing has wrought, has our auto-pilots thrown off. That’s incredibly uncomfortable and an incredible opportunity.  Our companies are going through the same redesign and pivot process. So, grown-up mutually beneficial conversations about how we bring out the best in both ourselves and our organisations have never been more timely.  Prepare yourself well for them.

As always thanks for reading this and sharing it. Feel free to read more on my blog page.

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