Philip Cho used to work 10 to 12 hour days in the office of the Toronto law firm where he is a partner. That was before the pandemic. He’d sometimes be able to drop his three kids, ages 10, 13 and 16, off at school, but he typically wouldn’t leave the office until 7 p.m., missing out on dinner but home in time to put his children to bed.
“I feel like it’s another lifetime ago now,” says Mr. Cho, who has been working from home for the past two years.
Working remotely during the pandemic has been a major shift for anyone who was used to spending their days in an office. It’s been a profound change for many fathers, who say they have been able to spend more time with their children, do more around the house and enjoy a greater sense of presence in their family lives. Yet surveys show that as pandemic restrictions loosen, managers want employees back in the office full-time, with parents among those most likely to quit their jobs if they are required to do so.
If men can resist returning to the office full-time it could benefit them as fathers, and may also help make flexible work arrangements permanent for themselves and women, who have suffered tremendous career upheavals during the pandemic.
“My wife is like, don’t ever get a full-time job again,” says Laurence Miall.
Early in the pandemic, Mr. Miall, his wife and their daughter moved from Montreal to Edmonton, where his wife had been offered a job.
Mr. Miall was able to continue his job as director of communications for a national foundation, but eventually left to become a stay-at-home dad. He’s been working as a self-employed consultant, a job that allows him to do the bulk of parenting while his wife focuses on her career as a therapist in private practice.
“I spend a lot more time with my daughter,” he says. “I felt like a pretty committed dad before, but it all had to fit in to pretty constrained parameters.”
Men aren’t just spending more time with their kids, they’re also doing more around the house. But even though this domestic labour has increased, it still doesn’t measure up to what women contribute. For example, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, the proportion of men who did the grocery shopping doubled during the pandemic to 30 per cent, up from 15 per cent in 2017. The number of men doing laundry also doubled, to 16 per cent.
Several months into the pandemic, Prateek Awasthi left his job as director of a non-profit organization in Toronto, where he worked days as long as 14 hours. His wife was going through a busy time at work, and Mr. Awasthi was able to look after their kids, now three- and five-years-old, during lockdowns.
“It would have been impossible to have done that if both of us were so busy,” he says.
He’s since returned to work as a lawyer at a boutique firm that allows him the flexibility to work from home several days a week and to still oversee the morning routine, getting his kids up and fed and off to daycare and school, and leaving the office early enough to pick them up.
“It allowed me to be the parent I want to be,” he says.
In a survey of more than 800 senior managers conducted by Robert Half released in March, 55 per cent said they want their employees back to work on-site full-time as pandemic restrictions ease.
A separate survey of more than 500 Canadian professionals conducted by the talent solutions and business consulting firm found that 53 per cent would look for a new job with remote options if their employer required them to be in the office full-time. Working parents were most likely to say they’d quit if called back full-time, at 59 per cent, behind only millennials.
Businesses need to be mindful of equity and inclusion, and not penalize employees who work in the office less often, says Michael French, national director of Client Solutions at Robert Half.
“Companies need to make sure that they’re looking at the advancement of everybody, not just the people they see everyday,” he says.
In some cases, employees may not even be interested in that promotion if they have to sacrifice working from home entirely.
In a poll of approximately 800 women released earlier this week by the Prosperity Project, a registered charity created to ensure Canadian women are not left behind in the COVID-19 recovery, nearly two-thirds of women said they would turn down a promotion in order to work from home.
“Unless women are able to be more equal contributors to Canada’s economy, we’re not going to have the kind of prosperity as a country that we should have,” says Pamela Jeffery, CEO of the Prosperity Project.
Mr. Cho’s firm has asked lawyers to return to the office at least two days a week, an arrangement he hopes will continue.
“It’s a blessing to have that now as opposed to how it was before,” he says. “I’m a more present father.”
He drives his kids to school, often cooks dinner with them and is there when they come home from school.
“Those little moments are more frequent and important,” he says.
Mr. Cho always tried his best to be a present father prior to the pandemic, but it was challenging when he was working long hours away from home.
“That’s a lot of time to just not be around,” he says. “And that’s what my kids’ experience and memories would have been. The pandemic has completely changed that.”
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