Covid-19 has shifted narrative around homeworking, say equality campaigners

Despite the stresses and strains, 80% of families have enjoyed spending extra time together as a result of lockdown, according to a survey.

Gender equality campaigners now predict the pandemic could lead to more fathers calling for greater flexibility from their employer so they can spend more time at home.

Research conducted by parenting website Mumsnet found 70% of parents are now re-evaluating what is important, while 76% of children said they had enjoyed the extra family time.

A survey of 1,034 site users with at least one child between May 22 to May 31 on behalf of travel firm Luxury Family Hotels revealed 67% of families think lockdown has brought them closer together.

Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said: “Lockdown has had huge impacts on just about every aspect of family life.

“Among those parents who have been able to stay at home, the familiar worry that they just don’t spend enough quality time with their children has been wiped out in one dramatic stroke.

“For some, lockdown has undoubtedly been a terrible experience, but this survey shows that for many, the time spent together has been transformative.

“It will be interesting to see whether families make long-term changes to reprioritise their time when restrictions start to ease.”

Women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society thinks a possible benefit of the shutdown is the end of “presenteeism” in workplaces that puts many working mothers at a disadvantage.

“The narrative around homeworking was seen as a negative, and seen as negative for women in particular,” Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said.

“If women worked from home, that was a bigger impact for them in terms of a negative impact because of the way they are labelled as being less committed and less engaged in their work.

“But this has shifted that – so we are either all less committed or we are all just as committed as we were before and it has got nothing to do with working from home.”

Some think the shutdown might also have an impact on the way fathers perceive their role, and make employers appreciate that men are also caregivers.

Gabe Winn, chief executive of communications firm the Blakeney Group, is one of those planning to spend more time working from home, and to offer greater flexibility to employees.

Mr Winn, who has a three-year-old daughter and three-month-old son, said: “Not only am I far more productive working from home, and happier, and less stressed and saving money, I’m getting to be a much better dad.

“I think that is something that is overlooked a bit for dads – the guilt you have about not being the best dad you can be.

“That’s one of the things that’s driving my thinking about spending more time working from home once lockdown has lifted.”

Mr Winn argues that Covid-19 has reset the conversation around flexible working.

“Flexible working used to be ‘you can have a day working from home or you can come in slightly late’,” he said.

“The conversation now for any decent boss is ‘firstly, how do my team work best’ – focusing on the output rather than presenteeism.”

He added: “For some people it is that they are a parent, and for some people it is that they are a carer for their own parents or for somebody else. It is not just about being a dad or a mum.”

Adrienne Burgess, joint chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, said: “Lockdown has given many fathers the chance to spend a lot more time looking after their children – including those dads who have continued their paid work.

“We owe it to dads, mums – and most importantly children – to ensure that opportunity isn’t lost once the lockdown eases.”

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