Do you fear that telecommuting will put more pressure on you at home or hinder your opportunities for career advancement? Don’t let societal norms stifle your dreams. Consider ways telecommuting can foster greater work-life balance and help close the gender chore gap in your home.
Telecommuting and the Gender Chore Gap
Telecommuters face the same social pressures and work-life balance challenges that all workers do. Some telecommuters may experience increased responsibility for household chores and childcare since they work from home. They may also feel isolated and abandoned by equally ambitious in-office coworkers.
Whether feelings of inequality are the result of self-imposed pressure to be a superhero at home and work, or whether these telecommuters are subjects of a worldwide gender chore gap, is debatable. The bottom line is:
Telecommuting can inadvertently create a work-life imbalance when household members don’t understand the purpose and nature of working from home.
What Is the Gender Chore Gap?
The gender chore gap refers to the disparity between the time that women and men spend doing household tasks and taking care of children. Women around the world are traditionally responsible for the household, while men go to work and earn income for the family. Though more women are educated and working than ever, some women are still expected to prioritize housework above their careers.
The gender chore gap is best friends with the gender pay gap, or opportunity gap, in which women tend to make less money and hold fewer high-level management positions than men. The consensus is that women who attempt to manage both a successful career and thriving home are essentially chasing two rabbits.
Does the Gender Chore Gap Really Exist?
It’s tempting to think that the gender chore gap is outdated and no longer prevalent in American society. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that women still perform more unpaid work (i.e., chores and childcare) than men.
Though family dynamics throughout the 21st century have become more diverse, including legalized same-sex marriage and more men becoming stay-at-home dads, gender biases haven’t magically disappeared. A study conducted by the American Sociological Association also shows evidence of traditional gender bias in same-sex couples. However, the Families and Network Institute found that same-sex couples tend to share responsibilities more than heterosexual couples do.
So, does the gender chore gap really exist?
Generally, across the globe, yes. Household dynamics keep changing, though, and chore gaps aren’t just between women and men.
The more important question is: Does a gender chore gap exist in your home, and can working remotely close it?
Does Telecommuting Close the Gender Chore Gap?
One of the most common fallacies of telecommuting is that you have unlimited free time while holding down a full-time job. Telecommuting definitely provides more time flexibility and work productivity, but it doesn’t mean you can send emails, attend phone meetings, make the kids dinner, walk the dog, and mop the floors all at the same time.
Many non-telecommuters expect you to have supernatural multitasking abilities and make household items dance themselves clean like Mary Poppins could. Though you can throw a load of laundry between meetings or wash dishes during your lunch break, you still need to put in your hours for the day.
Sometimes, spouses and partners who work away from home assume that more time at home means more time to take care of the home. Such expectations can increase the chore gap for telecommuters and pile more on your plate.
If you’re expected to work two full-time jobs—a telecommuting job and homemaker job—you might become discouraged and overwhelmed after a while. You might feel as though you need to choose one over the other, and then you might feel guilty about your choice, especially if you choose your career. If that’s the case, it’s time to sit down with your spouse or partner to discuss the discrepancies between household expectations and your career ambitions.
Does Telecommuting Close the Opportunity Gap, Too?
A study by Catalyst shows that women who work under flexible arrangements have higher career aspirations than women who work for companies without alternative work options. It seems that flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, allow women to balance their careers with their home life more effectively. However, the more women telecommute, the less they are present in the office.
As a telecommuter, you may fear that your lack of physical presence will leave you unnoticed and slow your career advancements. You may hold onto the notion that a physical presence automatically signals to management that you are doing your job and getting stuff done. Physical presence also affords opportunities to hold casual chats, get to know leaders, and find small ways to go above and beyond. In other words, you put in your “face time” and get noticed by people who can promote you.
However, face time doesn’t guarantee a boost in reputation, and managers of remote teams don’t rely on face time to judge the work product of their staff. At the end of the day, if you meet or exceed expectations and are pleasant to work with, your employer will notice that you’re an asset to the company, which can lead to promotion.
Therefore, the breadth of your opportunity gap is up to you.
If you dream of working part-time while focusing primarily on your family, there are plenty of telecommuting jobs that can sustain your standard of living.
When you’re ready to earn more money and take on more responsibility, you can apply for new telecommuting jobs or talk to your employer about potential advancements. It all depends on your personal and professional goals and what you’re willing to do to make it happen.
It’s Time to Have the Talk
The best way to close the chore and opportunity gaps at home is to discuss your goals and needs with your spouse or partner. Both of you need to speak openly and honestly about what is most important to you and what each person can do to contribute. Though you may agree that family always come first, you still need income to support your family. At least one of you needs to work, but at least one of you needs to care for your kids and keep up with the house.
How do you create balance?
Consider how businesses operate. Companies designate specific roles with defined responsibilities; then they hire individuals to fill the roles. Think about all the roles and associated responsibilities required to keep your household running. Are there enough people in your family to fill all the roles? If not, do what successful companies do: Delegate responsibilities among the current team or hire extra help.
Telecommuters often fill multiple roles (e.g., income provider and homemaker), which can lead to a significant gender chore gap. Just as one person can fill multiple roles, each role can be shared among multiple people. Consider ways you can share some of the household roles and responsibilities.
If there’s still too much to do, outsource some tasks. For example, can you hire regular lawn care service, cleaning professionals, or in-home babysitters. You can even hire a part-time assistant to perform non-income producing tasks, such as filing, mailing letters, and scheduling meetings.
How do you create boundaries?
Telecommuters often face interruptions that decrease productivity, which defeats a major benefit of working from home. Create structure by designating a work space for yourself, setting business hours, and establishing rules for interruptions (e.g., no interruptions during certain times except for emergencies). You can still make time for your kids and multitask throughout the day if you want. Make a plan and communicate the plan to your family so that everyone knows what to expect.
Tips for Creating Chore Equality at Home
Here’s a strategy for creating more chore equality at home to help close the gender chore gap:
- Make a list of all the household tasks. For example, cleaning dishes, laundry, raking leaves, packing lunches, making dinner, and taking out the trash.
- Decide how often each task needs to be done. Dishes need to be done daily when they are dirty. Laundry might be done weekly. Dinner might be made daily, but you could also bulk cook once per week to save time.
- Rank each task according to priority. Determine which tasks are essential and which can wait. Anything that affects school, work, meals, and health are probably essential. However, is organizing the bookshelf alphabetically an essential task? Probably not.
- Decide when each task should be done. Meal prep is done on Sundays, dinner is started around 5 p.m. every day, lunches are packed by 7 a.m., laundry is done Saturday morning, and so on.
- Delegate tasks among household members. First, everyone should voice which tasks they are willing to do, which they refuse to do, and which they will tolerate if no one else claims them. For example, if one person will do laundry, but refuses to clean bathrooms and will tolerate raking leaves if no one else does, hopefully, another person will at least tolerate cleaning bathrooms and raking leaves. To make this work, everyone needs to speak honestly and be accommodating.
- Schedule tasks on the calendar. Mark chores on a calendar and put the calendar in a spot where everyone sees it regularly. Avoid taking on other household members’ tasks to keep the responsibilities spread out. Adhere to a general schedule as much as possible, and you’ll find that everything in the house gets done and you have more time for work and fun.
- Adjust the schedule. Revisit the chore plan and make sure everyone is still on board. If the schedule isn’t working or if one person is unhappy with the arrangements, make adjustments or start all over.
Tips for Closing the Opportunity Gap While Telecommuting
Here are some ways you can make your presence known and position yourself for success while telecommuting:
- Keep in touch. Schedule regular phone calls with your manager or team. If possible, hold video conferences so that everyone can see you happy and smiling. The more connected you are, the more likely you’ll be remembered when promotions come around.
- Be positive. Bring some positive energy to emails, group chats, and phone calls. Congratulate coworkers on their successes, say thank you, and speak optimistically about your job. Positive vibes compound and people will notice your upbeat attitude.
- Do amazing work. Knock your job out of the park. Meet your deadlines, submit your best work, ask questions when you don’t understand, be proactive, make suggestions, and serve as a leader. Make yourself indispensable to the team.
- Know what you want. Your career interests may change over time, but it helps to have a goal as a launching point. Choose a realistic goal (e.g., a job title or salary), and create a simple plan of action to get there. Consider sharing your goal and plan with a trusted manager or mentor.
- Physically separate your workspace. Set up a separate office space and establish clear work hours. Make sure everyone in your house knows when you’re working and when you need quiet time. Take breaks like in-office people do, but establish enough structure and discipline to be productive.
Closing the gender chore gap starts in your home. Foster family discussions about the nature of telecommuting and how it can create greater work-life balance for your household. Share your career goals with your family, and put in the effort needed to make your virtual presence known. Get everyone on board and find ways to share household responsibilities. Give yourself permission to take a leadership role in your career and life.
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