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Women and our changing world of work

04 November 2020

By Jessica Sena

‘2020, the best year of our lives’… said absolutely no one ever. As this year draws to a close, we are very unlikely to hear many people shouting about how great it was. The year has been a stressful one to say the least for people all over the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Both home and work lives were turned upside down for months during lockdown, and it still seems as though we are living through this strange limbo of watching Boris’ announcements with a ‘will they, won’t they’ mindset.

For many of us fortunate people that have kept our jobs this year, found ourselves suddenly thrust into a new realm of working from home. Of course, many people in the UK were already a part of some form of ‘flexible working’, spending some days in the office and some back home. At Newgate, a range of employees have been doing this mix for some time, with employees needs for a more flexible approach being met. But for others, this is the first time they have spent their working days sat uncomfortably at a dining room table with poor wifi and noisy neighbours for background noise (or maybe that’s just me).

One issue that has been cropping up during this time is how this new form of working has affected women in particular. A recent report ‘Burnout Britain[1]’ found that women in the UK bear the brunt of Covid-related work stress, with many having to juggle work, childcare and other household responsibilities more than their male counterparts. Looking forward to a post-Covid world, could a more flexible approach to working benefit women, and in particular working mothers? I spoke to some of Newgate’s very own hardworking ladies to get their thoughts on a flexible future for women:

How have you found the new working from home/more flexible working set up has affected your work/home life balance?

Shelly Durrant - ‘There is definitely now a better work/home balance. Not having to commute into the office every day has made a huge difference, coping with constant train delays and the stress of making it in on time for a call or meeting. The commute time can now be spent wisely, logging in early to catch up on work or kick starting the day with a gym class.

Megan Kovach - ‘Working from home has definitely had a positive impact. It’s allowed me to have a better work/life balance by helping to manage my time better and still be able to take care of things at home whilst completing what I need to do during the workday.’

Sally Walton - ‘Flexible working has had a positive impact on my working life. I’m able to look after clients and work much later than I would if I was in the office while feeling like I am ‘available’ if my daughter needs me.’

Have you adapted your working day, if so how?

Ann Murphy - ‘I haven’t really adapted my day too much as I have been going into the office three days a week. I share a flat with two flat mates so I find working in the office works well for me. I like having the physical interaction with my coworkers and having access to anything I need. However, I am lucky enough to work in walking distance of the office so I know that is easier for me than it is for many others. If I move out of the city I think I would like to do a bit of both.’  

Sara Neidle - ‘I’ve tried to get myself into a good routine, to give myself breaks during the day and always try to get out for a good walk at lunch. I do find this very important as it can be so easy to fall into the trap of sitting in front of your screen non-stop.’

Have you found yourself with more time to do other things, if so what?

Emily Church - As much as I’d like to say I’ve started learning a new language or training to be an acrobat, the reality is my ‘free time’ is still mainly spent completing tasks that need to be done to keep the world turning for my family -  keeping tabs on the children’s activity/school schedule, household admin, meal planning, shopping, laundry, cooking, tidying up the Lego for the hundredth time and generally lying awake at night worrying about all the minutiae or wondering if I might have forgotten anything – when people talk about the ‘emotional’ or ‘mental’ labour of being a Mother, this is what they actually mean.’

Simone Fassom - ‘I am still working the same hours as before however without the daily commute I have gained three precious hours!  During lockdown, this extra time meant  I could visit my elderly parents to run errands for them, which has been vital to their well-being.  This would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the opportunity to work flexibly. I can see this being a huge benefit to those who care for dependents but also work.

As a parent, has working from home meant you are able to spend more time with your children?

Emily Church - ‘I’m definitely more ‘visible’ for my children - which is good, since they are only young and get upset sometimes when I leave the house without them. However, I find it’s easier to be in the office. Young children have no concept of a job or having responsibilities outside of the home, so when I say I can’t do something with them, they think it is because I don’t want to – and that can be hard.’

Sally Walton - ‘Yes, I do feel more ‘present’ at home.  I’m continually working in my office but my daughter is in the next room and can come and talk to me at any time.  I’m also enjoying being able to pick her up from school more frequently as it means I hear about her day and what has been going on in her school life.’

Going forward, do you think the flexible approach is best and do you think it will enable women to work the hours that suit them?

Shelly Durrant - ‘I do think the flexible approach is best and I hope it remains especially for those that have children and are reliant on childcare. I do think flexibility needs to be for all parents, dads too.’

Sara Neidle - ‘I think it was always going in this direction, it just had to take something rather big to really make it happen. It is a very positive way forward.

Do you see fluid working practices having an impact on future generations and how?

Emily Church - ‘When I think about the working world my sons will grow up to join one day, I hope that the status quo will have shifted enough to recognise that they should and could be responsible for their children’s care just as much as their partners will be. I don’t necessarily think the ‘office is dead’ as it is still so important to establish working relationships, allow junior and senior staff members to swap advice and tips and simply to enjoy the social camaraderie of working within a team.’

Simone Fassom - I believe that flexible working will enable future generations to be able to adapt their working day in such a way that they’re still able to progress their career and deliver brilliant work whilst working the hours needed but they can do so in a way that allows them to raise their families. This could make a massive difference to anyone who cares for dependents, or those who wish to pursue personal projects like charity work or interests.’

Megan Kovach - ‘The main impact I think this will have on future generations is making them think twice about the careers they’re pursuing. Many jobs are glamorized with the social aspect, networking, traveling, etc., and post-Covid has changed that narrative. If flexible working becomes more of a permanent thing where we’re spending two days in the office, then the rest at home, I think it will challenge younger generations to look into jobs that best fit that specific working style.’

Sally Walton - ‘I hope that we take the learnings from this experience and incorporate the best bits into our working life in the future.’