Would you take your baby into the office with you and work with them beside you? Apparently, parents in the US have being doing this successfully. Cab firm Addison Lee is trialling it in the UK for a BBC Two programme. I have to confess that, like many, my first thought was it will never work, particularly for mobile children. I haven’t changed my mind. In fact, in the US it is limited to children under one, which makes eminent sense. I was picturing toddler boy in Addison Lee’s offices. He would have run riot. Indeed, most of the parents who seemed to be struggling had older children [there was one dad involved in the experiment, although he seemed to get the least amount of work done]. One woman gave up even before the end of the first day, exhausted by the stress of it all. Working with a baby is tiring. It’s working times two.
Then there’s the stress of thinking what the impact is on all your colleagues, even though the biggest strain is surely on the parent.
In the US, they see it as a way of retaining staff, but the problems there are because of a lack of maternity leave, not childcare costs. Could there be a danger that allowing babies in the office would mean women felt under pressure to go back to work earlier than they might otherwise do? Or does it allow them greater choice about when they go back?
The programme raised other interesting questions. For many women, for instance, going back to work gives them a bit of their old professional selves back, allows them to do adult things for a few hours and, for instance, eat with both hands or go to the toilet unaccompanied. In short, it’s a bit of a break. Bringing the kids with you means you never get that break. Is that good for either the baby or the parent? Plus you are not fully a professional – having the baby with you every day is an in your face reminder that you are a mum who works. Is that a good thing? Will that hold you back? Yet the parents desperately wanted it to work because they were so torn between work and being with their baby. Why have we created a world of work that is so separate from the world of home?
Another issue is the babies themselves. Do they enjoy being in the office all the time? It was hard to tell in the first programme because it was only one day and there were loads of the parents’ colleagues playing with the babies. My feeling was they would soon get bored of the novelty and it would be all down to the parents to get on with it and meet their targets. That could mean the babies would either be on their parents’ laps or in various contraptions. Impossible for a toddler, methinks. Still, psychologists were wheeled on to say it was good for babies’ development to be in a different environment. Perhaps for an hour or so, but for a whole eight hours on a regular basis and with a commute on top?
On the other hand, it means the babies don’t have to suffer separation anxiety, that awful bit where you hand them over at nursery and they scream the place down while the nursery staff assure you they are going to be fine “in five minutes”. Plus many women already bring their kids to the office. They are self-employed and work from home. If they can do it, why can’t it be done outside the home? It does make you extremely resourceful and capable of doing a great deal of work in the very short space of time that the children nap.
The thing is these women, for despite the token man it would end up being mainly women, are often not doing it wholly from choice even if they want to spend more time with their children. While it sounds ideal to type away with a sleeping baby on your lap [and the programme showed it can be done with younger babies, probably depending on the baby in question and depending on what job you did], the reality can be very different. Surely there are other alternatives that could work better? Subsidised workplace creches, for instance, so mums could save on childcare and be near their babies without having them on their laps? At the very least, more homeworking so the mums don’t have to waste precious time commuting and have the comforts of their home and possibly other people who were not also working to help out. It all seemed a bit extreme, but it did raise some interesting issues. Part two is on tonight. Will they take the trial to a full month?