Employee Connectedness: A Discussion with Dr. Brad Shuck About Working From Home in a Household with Children

Episode 8: A Discussion with Dr. Brad Shuck About Working From Home in a Household with Children

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many knowledge workers are now working from home at the same time their children are learning from home. Employees are now juggling work-life responsibilities simultaneously alongside home-life responsibilities. For employees who are parents, working from home in a household with children impacts the way they work. Companies should recognize these new challenges and respond with flexibility and empathy.

In this episode of Employee ConnectednessUnitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses the experience of working from home in a household with children during the COVID-19 crisis with UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck.

In this conversation, they will discuss the unique stressors of having combined work- and family-life around the clock as a result of the pandemic. The available time a parenting employee has to focus on work is changing and teams need to adapt as well. Employers and non-parenting colleagues who extend empathy and understanding to parenting colleagues can build a stronger, more resilient team together. The overall work-life balance of employees has changed dramatically in response to the pandemic, and some of those changes will become positive permanent shifts.

Episode 8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDoGPcEo_qQ

Employee Connectedness is live-streamed every weekday at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.

Connected Employees

Full Transcript:

Employee Connectedness: A Discussion with Dr. Brad Shuck About Working From Home in a Household with Children

Charley Miller 0:30
Dr. Brad Shuck, so good to see your smiling face. I’m Charley Miller, Unitonomy. Dr. Brad Shuck, University of Louisville. I always have to get my pointing right here because it’s a mirrored screen and I’ve always wanted to do this, but that’s the wrong way. So, I’m talking to you live from my basement. Looks like you’re in your home office, of course. It’s in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic where everyone that can is working from home, working remotely. I’ve been doing remote work a long time so I’m not too fazed by what’s happening with how I collaborate my team, but having lots of conversations over the last three, four weeks since people have been doing this, I realized, wow, everyone’s experiences are a little bit different, and it so much depends on what your home life is like, as that kind of really does merge with your work-life right there on top of each other right now. So I’m asking you this because, yeah, you’re a professor, but I also know you’re a dad. What’s it like right now for you, day in, day out, going through this?

Dr. Brad Shuck 1:45
What’s changed over the last couple of weeks for us, at least where two weeks
ago it was pretty chaotic in our home…it was, it was kind of crazy, but now we’ve kind of settled into a bit of a routine every day. So we know what time we’re getting up out of bed, we know the chores and things we need to do, make our bed, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, do those kinds of things. We have watched probably an unhealthy amount of SpongeBob SquarePants in the morning. But it gets our day going and our little girl Madeline, she goes down into her, she’s got a little desk in her room that she does her homework at, all her NTI work. And we take brain breaks, but it’s been a bit of an evolution, and I don’t know why I didn’t expect that. I guess I thought on Day One, this would just, like, all work out great and be incredible and it wasn’t. It was really…we have had some tough days.

The advantage I think we have is my wife and I are both professional educators. Like we should get this right but, we didn’t. And it was hard, but also I will tell you this: I think we’re gonna look back on this crisis in the next couple of years and my relationship with my daughter will have changed for the better, as a result of that. There’s no doubt that my relationship with my wife will have changed for the better. And Maddy gets to see things that she normally wouldn’t get a chance to see. So she does get to see mom and dad get their work done and take calls and do meetings and that this isn’t just something that happens magically for folks but there’s some work that’s involved in it, and also these brain breaks have been good for us.

Charley Miller 1:14
All right so question to you: relationship with your daughter Madeline, involving your wife evolving through this, and that’s probably true for a lot of people. I just actually noticed last night looking back at the photos I’ve taken of my kids over the last four or five days: wow, I have a lot of pictures of my kids reading books together, hanging out together, cuddling together, watching TV, and I mean like arms around each other. They’re getting some real bonding that they wouldn’t had if they were still doing this preschool routine and busy weekends with the parents or teams, like, because things are so slow. We’re not moving around much, and we’re all kind of on top of each other. I’ve noticed that their bond is getting really strong. They’re four years old, and one year old now. They don’t really do school, in that we’re not doing homeschooling because they’re just so young, right, here we’re just trying to keep them engaged. That said, my four year old I know just got off her classes video conference which is crazy. Four year olds having a video conference, but true story. I want to go back to what you said though so evolving relationships. What do you think is happened for employees in the collaboration, do you think those are evolving, or are they just murky and confused?

Dr. Brad Shuck 2:20
I think, for those who are used to working remotely, I think there’s some defined boundaries around what those relationships are looking like. It certainly changed the productivity and the way that I get things done, I think the way that the teams that I work with, get things done. But I suspect it’s still pretty murky because the expectations for performance are slow to change. And I think they’ve been slow to change. Now, my, my own personal example is my wife and daughter would go to school at 630 in the morning, they left the house at 630 in the morning, I started work. And I would work until they got home, which sometimes it was until 630 or seven o’clock at night because of after school activities or going into jam or, or whatever. And so I had 12-13 hours to get work done. And now I don’t have that, I’ve got five to six hours maybe in a day, on a good day.

For those who are used to working remotely,…there’s some defined boundaries around what those relationships are looking like…But I suspect it’s still pretty murky, because the expectations for performance are slow to change.

Dr. Brad Shuck

And so instead of tracking time, and how much time I’ve got, I’m tracking projects. And here are the products I’ve got to get done today, here the priorities. These are the big rocks I need to move in. So I think those relationships across the board are probably still murky and, and they’re, they’re evolving, every day. , I mean companies are making decisions about the future of of the health and well being and vitality of the organization, literally on an everyday, everyday basis and so as those things change, the dynamics change, psychological safety changes, priorities change. And I think we’re, we’re still just beginning to understand the tip of the iceberg of all of that.

Companies are making decisions about the future of the health and well-being and vitality of the organization, literally on an everyday basis, and so as those things change, the dynamics change, psychological safety changes, priorities change. And I think we’re still just beginning to understand the tip of the iceberg of all of that

Dr. Brad Shuck

Charley Miller 4:14
Really well said, I want to visualize what you just said here in a second. But let me say a point about the importance of empathy right now. When we think about employee connectedness and right now, this you know the office culture was just pulled apart. And a lot of people who have done remote work are still getting their feet under them, I think hopefully moving past the technology glitches, now just getting used to the cadence of communication and how this needs to work and checking in on each other. But like, you’ll notice you’ve got these sort of tools in the bucket, for lack of a better way of expressing it, to help you stay connected with your, your colleagues. You know, humor, but another big one is empathy. And I think part of why we do the show, we’re always trying to get people some awareness to build empathy and hopefully they can take this back to their collaborations and have some meaningful conversations to foster that empathy.

Alright so to visualize what you were just saying, do something crazy here I’m going to go to a whiteboard. You see a whiteboard, Brad? Like I was thinking about this the other day, I want to try to draw it. This is the old world for people who are parents with kids, so I’m really talking to people who don’t have kids, so that you understand that people on our team actually have less time now and when you think about productivity, here’s why you have to expect less. All right in the old world here was my work life. And here was my kids’ life during the day, you know, let’s call this nine to five for lack of a better way of expressing this the second day, kids were doing school, or preschool or something like that. And mom or dad–gonna talk to you in a bit a single parent house which is a whole nother tricky situation–but this, but this is what the old world look like. Then everyone got together down here for dinner in the night, blah blah blah, right? Maybe you had some morning time up here, breakfast and getting the kids ready for school.

That’s the old world. What we’re going through right now, guess what? It now starts to look something like this where the mornings, this area’s gone because we’re over here, helping kids do some stuff, get them engaged. Then you know in my family, what we do is kind of divide and conquer. One of the parents will go into work, while the other parent is kind of engaging the kids. When you realize there’s like this zigzagging nature throughout the day. And what you end up with is something over here where you have these blocks of getting work done. That kind of looks more like this a little bit. Yeah, and then maybe some late at night or early morning where you sneak in some hours. But if you add all this up, you know, this is less than what this old model was over here, when you had these nice big blocks. Right, it’s just no longer the same world.

So let’s. Now, let’s do the opposite, what does it look like if you don’t have kids. Well, in the old model, you still have maybe that nine to five thing, so you’re out doing fun things and your into the nightlife or joining clubs or whatever it is, people do go see movies. As a parent of young kids, my lifestyle didn’t look like that for a while but I remember those days, and it was fun. Well now, thanks to this quarantine and social distancing your work day looks like this. If you’re a workaholic, you’re just going to town. These are another hours to do and you can crank. You can go nine to nine or something crazy, or even more I mean, it’s it’s the reason why I’m bringing this up. Is that when you start to compare these, these two worlds–I’m going to change my color here and draws you compare the single person, or those just called the non-parent to the parent right now over here. Wow, that is some real friction on teams when you have some people contribute more and you have other people that can contribute less.

When you start to compare these two worlds…you compare the non-parent to the parent right now…wow, that is some real friction on teams when you have some people contribute more and you have other people that can contribute less.

Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy

I don’t think, I’m gonna guess there aren’t a lot of teams out there having this conversation. They might be starting to, unfortunately, realize it the wrong way because there’s now frustrations and frictions about who’s carrying more load and who can’t do so much. And that’s unfortunate but I’m hoping people are waking up to it, maybe they can listen to us. And then we’re going to start to just talk about, as always half the battle is just to be open and transparent like this exists. What can we do to mitigate, what can we do to have empathy for the people who have less time, and are the people who are more time willing to take on more to compensate? They don’t have to, but I think it’s a great conversation to have. And just figure out how we can help each other get through this in the context of teams collaborating and trying to keep doing what they need to be doing. Alright, so let me switch back over to us. There we go.

Dr. Brad Shuck 8:54
Yeah, I love it. I love the visual nature of that and it certainly is a really good and accurate depiction of our day. I would like for you to draw the SpongeBob time in there for me on the, on the next model be great. But this is, this is the reason that we might recommend for people to get clear on their priorities. So, you know, I can tell you that I work with a lot of organizations the last couple of days. And everybody has needs right now, and everything looks good because they’re the short term wins and, I think, if, if I was a leader, right now being able to say here are the three things we’re going to focus our time and energy on and our and our people resources, and we’re gonna we’re gonna funnel everything into this. And it’s not that the other things aren’t important, but I think it does help give some clarity, so that when we do have those pockets of the day, that we can get in focus very quickly and knock out those things that are going to give us the biggest return on our investment. And that not, they don’t take capacity, that kind of communication actually builds capacity back for your teams.

Charley Miller 10:08
All right, now let’s shift to the single parent. Because I think it’s a really important conversation when we talk about empathy around the team, if you know there’s people on your team that are single parents. They are going through a whole nother level of what’s happening to the pandemic than someone like us where we do have partners here to help, and where we can do this juggle together. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a single parent especially with multiple kids right now where you’re kind of on your own, and even the supportive nature of the community and maybe grandparents and friends around them usually would chip in to help people along, maybe they can’t right now, probably can’t. And now you have the pressure of work on top of full-time child management. I just hope employers and the colleagues of the people are really empathetic and provide those people a lot of room to do what they need to do cuz family needs to come first.

Dr. Brad Shuck 11:07
I couldn’t be more. I think this is where empathy and grace space kind words, when we talk about compassion. And Angie, my wife and I have talked about this a lot, where there are some kids who are in in the school, where she teaches who don’t have whole families, like we might, but also who may not have access to technology needs that that their little one needs to be able to complete work, or, or to connect with other people. Or there may be a single mom or single dad or a single grandparent, that is, has multiple kids in the house, who require multiple screens, or if you know awful also think about our foster care system right now where gosh that, you know, it’s, it’s way upside down.

I think when we talk about the word compassion, I think oftentimes we think about really big things like, I need to do a huge initiative, and that’s compassion. What we really find though, is that compassionate lives in these everyday moments that are kinda ordinary and pedestrian. We may not notice them if we weren’t really kind of looking for them. But that’s where a kind word and an email goes a long way, calling to check in, face timing with those friends who, you know, may need a little extra support here and there, becomes really really important. And man, those are game-changing kinds of things they’re, they’re transformational. They fundamentally shift the way that we experience life. But I think you’re absolutely correct about the single parent who is right now trying to figure out how to do fifth-grade math, and also maintain a job so that there’s a paycheck coming in, so that they can put food on the table. I suspect that kind of pressure to be crushing, absolutely crushing.

When we talk about the word compassion…oftentimes we think about really big things like I need to do a huge initiative…what we really find…is that compassionate lives in these everyday moments that are kinda ordinary and pedestrian. We may not notice them if we weren’t really kind of looking for them… And man, those are game-changing kinds of things. They’re transformational. They fundamentally shift the way that we experience life.

Dr. Brad Shuck

Charley Miller 13:11
Yeah, right so I think we can all admire what they’re doing. If Martin was on this call, who can’t join us today. Martin Low, On Plane Consulting. He’s always good to say that this is a moment where you build, you know your culture brand. This is where you build your legacy. This is where you build dedication, because the way you treat people right now, will be remembered. In times of crisis, the character you show will be the one that you’re known for through that. Also, many years after. All right. If you show people a lot of leeway, a lot of space to do family first, they’re going to remember that, and they’re going to be dedicated loyal employees for a long time, I would imagine in almost all cases. So this is a great chance for employees realize productivity is not the main thing right now. What’s important right now is that we’re building and maintaining trust with our employees were making sure they feel like they’re taken care of, they have their safety, and especially in situations where there’s kids, they’re able to put their kids first. Great, that’s gonna pay dividends for that employer for a long long time.

So this is a great chance for employees realize productivity is not the main thing right now. What’s important right now is that we’re building and maintaining trust with our employees. We’re making sure they feel like they’re taken care of, they have their safety, and, especially in situations where there’s kids, they’re able to put their kids first. Great, that’s gonna pay dividends for that employer for a long long time.

Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy

And a quick story related to that. Long before the pandemic, good friend down the street lost his wife to cancer a few years ago. He was a long term employee for a Fortune 500 technology company–I guess I can say this, it’s a good story–IBM. And I talked to him after, you know, things have kind of settled down, things were getting to a new normal for him and his college-age kids. And I talked to him, you know, with work, you know, IBM gave them a really long leash as his wife was going through the final stages of cancer and he’d been away for I think four to nine months, not doing any work, still getting a paycheck. Awesome of IBM to give that space, let him focus on his family, through those last moments. And I think what was really cool is when you talk to him, you realize he’s never gonna work for anyone else, even with any things he doesn’t like about whatever is going on, week to week. The trust and that connection that they built now is solid and he’s totally dedicated. So IBM, you know, did a priceless thing in their context and then they also have created a story someone like me shares and talks about how great it is to work for IBM.

Dr. Brad Shuck 15:34
I’d love to see companies take on this. I think the wrong thing to be saying right now is, “this is business as usual and we’re just we’re maintaining” and we’ve said many times on this live cast, over the last couple of weeks, there’s nothing business as usual about what’s happening right now. It is very different. Even if you are used to working remotely, like you’d work earlier like I am. It is it is it is fundamentally different. And what would be really great, is to see a company perhaps take a stand, or an organization take a stand to say, I would like to, you know, take Friday, take Friday afternoon, and just spend with your family or take a random Tuesday and we’re not going to be worried about work and productivity and sending emails right now, but this is a day to just have game time with your family and post a picture of it tag us on Instagram. Have your family play Monopoly or whatever you want to do.

I have a good friend of mine that works in the financial services industry and, and we were on a call yesterday. And he said–we have some, some things that we need to think about doing on on the personal side of our own finances–and I said, “well, I’ve got a 9, a 10, and an 11, you know, I won’t be able to talk into the afternoon” and he was like, “I’m going to take the afternoon off, I’m just going to spend it with my boys,” and I was like man good for you like that’s, that’s what we need to be doing now, and investing that time and energy into places–and I think organizations have a real opportunity for a win–that say, “look Friday’s family time, go do that. We won’t have meetings before 10 o’clock. We know you’re getting your kids ready for science and math today or that you’re doing reading logs, whatever that might be,” great opportunities.

Charley Miller 17:28
Yeah, positivity and optimism. There are a lot of conversations already emerging about how is this going to change culture after we get past the worst of this. Because it’s going to reshape our relationship with work. We know in the Western society that we have a workaholic 20th century mentality still embedded. And, you know, for a decade now there’s been so much talk of work-life balance, work-life balance, which is good, but clearly not available to everyone. Right. And I’m hoping one thing comes out of this as we start to think about what could make that more available to everyone, what can companies do? I think the change is going to happen. Because, like most things, it’s economics, and when you realize that if you want the best people working for you, you’re going to have to realize that the new demands are going to be the flexibility to work from home, to be able to stay engaged with your family and not have to be completely focused on work, 24 seven, or even nine to five. And hopefully there is a new era of work-life balance that comes out of this as parents can be more engaged with their kids and rightfully so.

There are a lot of conversations already emerging about how is this going to change culture after we get past the worst of this. Because it’s going to reshape our relationship with work. We know in the Western society that we have a workaholic 20th century mentality still embedded. And, you know, for a decade now there’s been so much talk of work-life balance, work-life balance–which is good–but clearly not available to everyone…I’m hoping one thing comes out of this is we start to think about what could make that more available to everyone, what can companies do?

Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy

Yeah. All right, awesome show. Awesome to talk to you again, Dr. Brad Shuck, University of Louisville, and we will be back hopefully on Monday for actually the second part of this conversation where now we’re going to look at what is it like for an employee who’s doing this isolation, alone, versus people like us with family. So that’s a real different take on what the experience is like and I think there’s some more empathy, we can develop through that. All right, so I will see you on Monday. Have a great weekend Brad, appreciate this.