Today, on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, I am again keeping my children at home.
Why? Because the "typical" work environment is now atypical - no longer wholly housed within a company cubicle's four walls. Employees are stepping out by staying at home, teleworking from fully equipped home-based offices, as I have been doing for the past 17 years. But today's teenagers - dubbed the "I-Generation" for their addiction to everything digital, from iPods to IM (instant messaging) - are receiving mixed messages about how, when and where they can expect to effectively balance their future careers and family lives.
Looking to the broadcast media to realistically portray the benefits of telework for working mothers, they instead come away with continued questions and lingering doubts about women's true career commitment and ambition. Reading mainstream magazine and newspaper articles about women easily "opting-out" of their careers, they are (mis)led into believing that most working moms have a choice - when, in fact, 70 percent of working families are headed by two-earner couples or by a single working parent.
The responsibility has therefore landed upon the shoulders of today's working parents to teach the next generation how to "make work work."
Fortunately, many working mothers are heeding the call. According to a Simmons School of Management study that came out in January, career women are finding ways to remain full-time employees on their own terms by using company-supplied flexible workplace options such as telework and flex time, while limiting overnight travel to spend more time with their families. Self-proclaimed "career self-agents," they are transforming the working paradigm by essentially determining when, where and how much they will work.
Men are increasingly taking advantage of flexible work options as well. The need for at least one spouse to work from home often becomes a necessity when providing care for a child or an elderly parent, and men are increasingly responding to that need. Additionally, a recent Families and Work Institute study found that fathers are spending more time with their children than they did 25 years ago. Teleworking provides them with more opportunities to do so.
Whether the next generation of workers will have the option to work from home, however, may not even be a decision they will need to make. The International Telework Association and Council estimates that by 2010, the number of U.S. employees teleworking will increase from the current 26 million (18.3 percent of employed adults) to 100 million. The Telework Enhancement Act of 2007, which would require all federal employees to be eligible to telework, could augment that number.
There are a variety of reasons for this. First, distributed work is now a reality, as 68.5 percent of Americans use the Internet at home and 36 percent have high-speed connections. Second, a talent shortage is imminent. By 2014, there will be a shortfall of 8 million workers across all employment categories as the demand for skilled talent outweighs supply. Last, time has become the new currency, as many workers are dual-focused on work and family, spurring a premium on time and flexibility regarding money. Telework is no longer a business strategy; it's a business necessity.
But because so much of the mass media lag behind in acknowledging the growing acceptance of working from home, this year I propose that today - the fourth Thursday in April, which has served as Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day for 15 years - we should teach our children not only how teleworking can be done, but also why it must be done. It's a whole new day.
Lori Sokol is founder and publisher of Work Life Matters magazine. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.