I used to be in the minority — among the few people I knew who worked from home. After years as a broadcast journalist, in 2017 I joined Connected Nation, a nonprofit advocating for broadband access, to be its communications director. Working from home quickly became one of the best perks of my career change.
If the adults don’t return to their offices, another remote work gender divide will persist — on the housecleaning front.
There was no commute, there were few in-person meetings, and I generally got a lot more done both at work and home. But with the pandemic came some unexpected company (my husband) and a lifestyle that was focused almost entirely indoors, creating a serious uptick in the demand on my time from both work and home — and that's without having children.
Essentially, the demands at home doubled. The house was getting dirty quicker. There were more at-home meals to make and more dishes to do. I went from cleaning the house every other week to twice a week, not to mention constantly mopping up the kitchen, loading and unloading the dishwasher and cleaning the stove. The floors needed sweeping daily and the bathrooms had to be scrubbed more often because we were always, always home.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Don't misunderstand me. My husband has helped out a lot by doing laundry and assisting with the mopping and sweeping. But, honestly, the messy kitchen, the dirty bathroom and the cluttered dining room table just don't bother him like they do me. So I have felt personally responsible for taking care of them much more often and have generally done so.
I'm not the only woman in this position. Even before Covid-19 forced so many of us to stay home, the number of people teleworking was growing at a staggering rate: 159 percent from 2005 to 2017. The data also showed that 4.7 million employees (3.4 percent of the workforce) worked from home at least half the time and that 80 percent of the U.S. workforce wanted to join them.
During that period, women were slightly more likely than men to work from home full time. According to the Census Bureau's 2019 one-year American Community Survey estimate, 6.1 percent of women worked from home, compared to 5.3 percent of men (in this case, teleworkers are employed people working solely from home).
But what we've learned during the pandemic is that women are not reaping the same benefits from teleworking opportunities as men, because they are taking on even more of the at-home responsibilities. A lot of attention has been paid to how women have disproportionately taken on child care responsibilities, which will hopefully start to lessen as children can return to school. If the adults don't return to their offices, however, another remote work gender divide will persist — on the housecleaning front.
A 2020 Yale University study showed that telecommuting moms spend significantly more time performing housework when they work from home than dads. Researchers found that moms were spending a whopping 49 minutes more a day on housework, as well as 33 minutes more a day working with a child present, compared to dads.
"It might be the case that telecommuting helps mothers to juggle work and child care," noted the study's lead author, Thomas Lyttelton, a doctoral candidate in Yale's sociology department. "Our study suggests that it also leads them to do a disproportionate amount of housework and child care compared to fathers."
Unsurprisingly, researchers at Emory University also found a difference in how the pandemic affects productivity between the genders, with female academics experiencing a sharp drop. In just the first 10 weeks of the lockdown, the researchers found, female academics' productivity dropped by 13.9 percent compared to that of their male counterparts.
During the pandemic, 88 percent of employers said they encouraged or required remote work because of Covid-19, according to a survey of global human resources executives. Now that we've seen just how many jobs can be done remotely and how that can work, nearly 3 out of 4 chief financial officers said they plan to shift some employees to remote work permanently.
This trend makes it clear that we need to respond to the needs of women in the workplace, especially when that workplace shifts to a home office. Doing so requires elevating the voices of women in companies and organizations, particularly in conversations about workplace decisions and the future of work.
We need to pay attention to how these changes are affecting women at work — and at home.