For some parents, working from home during the pandemic was brutal, having to suddenly juggle homeschooled kids and a full-time job. For others, the flexibility was much welcome.
But when it comes to debating remote work and parenting, we also have to discuss the impact of working from home on career advancement. Especially when a Stanford professor known to advocate for remote work says parents shouldn’t work from home.
Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford, led a two-year study that revealed the productivity benefits of remote work. But now, after surveying more than 30,000 working-age Americans in the past year, he’s warning professionals that working from home full-time when you have colleagues who go to the office can be detrimental to your career, as your chances of promotion drastically decrease the less time you spend in the office.
Even more so if you are a woman and mother. “It turns out that who wants to work from home after the pandemic is not random. In our research we find, for example, that among college graduates with young children, women want to work from home full-time almost 50% more than men,” he wrote in Harvard Business Review.
“This is worrying given the evidence that working from home while your colleagues are in the office can be highly damaging to your career.”
When you combine them, these findings paint a pretty disturbing picture for getting more women in executive positions and closing the gender pay gap.
Why WFH workers are less likely to get promoted
Wondering what makes WFH workers less likely to get promoted? They’re out of sight, and less likely to be considered for high-visibility, career-changing projects and opportunities. And they spend less time socializing and building relationships with their network of coworkers and bosses.
“We found that WFH employees had a 50% lower rate of promotion after 21 months compared to their office colleagues. This huge WFH promotion penalty chimes with comments I’ve heard over the years from managers. They often confided that home-based employees in their teams get passed over on promotions because they are out of touch with the office,” wrote Bloom.
Is hybrid work and set schedules the way to go?
But before jumping to conclusions about parents having to choose between remote work or promotions, it’s important to consider nuances and solutions.
For example, Bloom recommends that leaders set fixed work-from-home schedules for employees to follow instead of letting them choose their own days, which allows for a more balanced mix of in-person attendance. And he supports hybrid work, where employees work from home two to three days a week.
In that way, parents — and mothers — can maintain some flexibility around things like childcare arrangements without compromising their career advancement.
Mackenna Sweazey, a remote and hybrid management expert who has spent years working in global organizations and managing teams around the globe, is a working mom who can relate to Bloom’s conclusions.
“As a parent working from home and a remote-work expert, I think the concept of a firm schedule of days in the office is critical for anyone in my position’s success,” she says.
“The longest days are the days I work from home, where the day starts with being a mommy at 6:30 am, becoming a VP of marketing at 9 am sharp, and alternating between the two as best I can until the kids go to bed.”
“Even with full-time care, I can’t switch off being a mother. Without a commute, I have no time for free-thinking, which we all know leads to some of the best ideas. Days where I commute into the office I start with a clearer head, have more focused time, and more career-focused downtime, for chit-chatting with colleagues or having a networking coffee meet-up.”
Additionally, according to her, working from home full-time leads to sloppiness around childcare schedules, and mothers tend to pick up the slack when last-minute arrangements have to be made. Going to the office on set days means you have to be stricter and more consistent about your arrangements — and benefit from the freedom of mind.
The flipside of the coin
However, other senior leaders who happen to have kids disagree. Claire Hunsaker, the founder of AskFlossie, a money community for all women, who holds an MBA from Stanford, thinks the burden should be put on companies rather than employees.
“Instead of imposing more restrictions on parents, with rigid work schedules and remote work limits, business leaders should design flexible work environments that attract parents. Professor Bloom mistakenly puts the burden on female employees, rather than on companies, which are legally responsible for equity in the workplace. This is not a parent’s problem to fix,” she says.
“Parents should vote with their feet. Companies interested in attracting and retaining talent have already pivoted to make their work environments more parent-friendly. This is one of the hottest recruiting markets in recent history, which means parents have an unusual amount of power to shape the workplace.”