COVID Insights, Perspectives 11.14.2020

AT HOME on Double Duty: Caregiving While Working From Home

For part two of our AT HOME series, Research Analyst Dr. Erika Eitland homes in on the unique challenges of one group of survey respondents: caregivers.

Remember when you last traveled by plane? Your seatbelt buckled, your carry-on stuffed so you didn’t pay for bags, and of course, the mandatory in-flight safety demonstration before take-off: “Please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.”

The principal of taking care of oneself first extends beyond air travel. However, while working from home during COVID, it can be hard to apply. Whether assisting a child with virtual school, supervising a toddler while daycare is closed, or caring for an older adult with a chronic condition, these conditions have created an additional time and energy drain on many employees. And as we head into winter months with shelter-in-place order looming, these challenges are as relevant now as they were last spring.

45% of Perkins and Will employees are taking care of one or more family members during COVID-19 WFH.

When we issued the AT HOME survey in May 2020, we found that 43 percent of our employees were taking care of one or more family members while working from home. Compared to employees without dependents, this group was significantly more likely to struggle with balancing non-work-related commitments and cite background noise and visual privacy as challenges.

“I forever feel guilty working from home. If I hear a kid cry, I feel I should be there to comfort them when I wouldn’t if I were in the office. And if I stop to have lunch with the kids, I feel guilty that I’m not working, even though in the office I would stop and have lunch sometimes.” – AT HOME Survey Response

The type of work setting when WFH was found to impact WFH experience and task effectiveness, with employees working at a desk/table and sofa/couch/recliner/chair shared for other household activities significantly more likely to report issues with concentration.

Caregiver Pain Points

The most impacted group? Employees age 35 to 54, the majority (60 percent) of which were taking care of one or more family members, compared to only 30 percent in the age 25-to-34 group. Survey respondents highlighted key issues associated with school or daycare closures. On average these employees have been with the firm for 10 or more years. With this tenure comes greater institutional knowledge and a sense of belonging within the team—but also, frequently, more responsibility: more meetings, calls, and management duties, all of which increase fatigue.

 

The struggle to “switch off”

Furthermore, survey responses highlighted challenges with the volume of virtual meetings during WFH. One frequently cited issue was internet bandwidth and connectivity when multiple family members are working and learning from a virtual platform. Another was the struggle to “switch-off” from work, with 52 percent of our employees reporting working extended hours since WFH. In the long term, the goal will be to support informal breaks with colleagues and lessen virtual interactions to the extent possible, allowing for more “heads down” productivity.

Despite the challenges of caregiving during COVID, the majority of this population says they want to spend more time working from home once the pandemic is over. WFH offers them increased flexibility and autonomy, allowing them to better balance the needs of work and family. In fact, if there was one universal truth among all caregiving survey respondents, it was that WFH gave us much-welcomed additional time with family. With no commutes, this group saw opportunities for more daily connection with family—whether it was having lunch together, playing with kids, or nursing an infant.

 

“It can paradoxically be harder to break; I find that I am in back-to-back virtual meetings with little to no time to get up, stretch, or take a breather unless I block time out as “unavailable” in my calendar ahead of time.” – AT HOME Survey Response

Acknowledge the double duty

These findings highlight potential short- and long-term implications for COVID-19 WFH. Over the next few months, those facing gaps in childcare or immunocompromised co-habitants may struggle to access additional support for personal responsibilities. Hence, caregiving employees may need more flexibility in their schedule and greater support from teammates. This may take the form of more strategic or concise calls and meetings, or even additional PTO.

For leadership, tailoring WFH strategies for caregiving employees can ensure the ride is as smooth as possible for the whole team. When we openly acknowledge the potential double duty of our employees, we can support continued work effectiveness during the challenging months still ahead.