As a mom, I want to spend time with my children and help them grow into responsible, caring, loving adults. However, for reasons of my own sanity, enjoyment of the work I do and a desire to fund a 401K, I want to continue working — but, part time so I have time for my family. When looking for work in 2012, I found that not many employers in my area were interested in hiring part time employees. Then, I found Rhiza. Rhiza has this magical policy of allowing babies in the office. I wanted to bring my son into work with me so he could get used to the idea of mommy working from a young age.
Working with my manager, I created a schedule for the hours I would work. However, there were so many variables and situations that I was not sure how to anticipate. What happens when the baby cries? Or soils a diaper in the middle of a meeting? How should I handle nursing him? Where? When? How much recovery time would I need after delivery? How should I account for the time that I would spend changing a diaper while I was working? Would the baby be welcome in meetings? My job involves communicating effectively with other people. How well would my baby nap while I’m talking with other people? How will this affect my job performance and quarterly reviews?
With all of these questions in my head, I started talking with the other working women in my life and with other Rhizans. Together we strategized ways to accommodate the needs of a newborn.
Personally, I have found it very difficult to have a baby on a set schedule. Between birth and 1 year of age, there are so many changes that happen that disrupt sleeping and eating patterns, from growth spurts, to learning new skills, to teething, to starting solid foods. As a result, I tend to parent by responding to my baby’s needs as they arise. However, work schedules and meetings require set, coordinated times.
Here are some of the things that helped me balance the capricious needs of a baby with my work responsibilities:
1) Meetings that last an hour or less
2) Being able to stand up and walk around during meetings
3) Having a 10-15 minute break between meetings for changing and nursing baby
4) Nursing privacy
5) Group communication environment and tools
6) Working remotely (and using the mute button)
7) Tolerance of mild interruptions
Meet quickly. And stand up!
Our work culture and meeting spaces embrace standing up during meetings. In fact, our morning scrum meeting is held as a stand up meeting, which encourages the meeting to go quickly. If baby starts getting fussy during a meeting, this also means I can soothe him by walking around or standing in place and bouncing him. So far, employing this meeting method means that I have only had to leave a couple meetings due to a disruptive baby.
Space to nurse in private
Rhiza has reconfigured one of the offices to include nursery items so now the room can be used for meetings and to provide a comfortable environment for me and baby. I reserve the room for the days that I am in the office, and other people can reserve the room when I’m out. This provides a safe place for me to leave baby when I need a quick break as well as a private space for nursing.
Communication tools to facilitate conversations
Rhiza has employees that work remotely, and many of the tools and processes that we use to help these employees also help make it easier to work with a baby. Since babies create some amount of noise and interruption, the ability to carry on some conversations asynchronously is very helpful. Online chat tools, like HipChat, are deeply ingrained in Rhiza’s culture. Since a lot of communication happens in the online chat tool, I can chat with people even while baby is nursing or being fussy. Also, video chat tools, like Skype, help me call in to group meetings while tending to the needs of my baby. The mute button gets used quite a bit which allows me to participate in the group discussion while avoiding disruptions. Overall, Rhiza’s rich online communication environment and collaborative online tools keep me in close contact with my colleagues even when there are baby-related interruptions.
Set expectations: Interruptions happen
In the beginning, I was nervous about bringing baby to work with me. I had concerns about how bringing baby to work would affect my co-worker’s, and my own, ability to focus. Happily, Rhiza’s office is structured to avoid these interruptions and accommodate them as they arise. One area of the office is a designated quiet space for deep concentration. Another area is geared towards collaboration – an environment which tolerates conversation and some mild noise. I also got a lot of support from my coworkers and the management team, who work proactively to create an atmosphere supportive of baby behavior. Rhiza’s CEO, Josh Knauer was warmly encouraging of the idea of bringing my baby to work. My direct manager was more than happy to have a baby in the office, and even leads meetings while cradling baby. Maryl Widdows, our CFO, gave me advice on topics ranging from work-life balance to nursing while at work. Hearing about experiences that other women have working with babies — both the good and the bad — helped me to feel more comfortable with the idea and also helped me with the planning.
Overall, having the acceptance and support of my coworkers and manager has been hugely helpful in making this transition, but it is definitely more challenging to work with my baby in the office than it would be to have him in daycare. Some days, I feel all of my executive function/multitasking abilities are being put to the test – those days when I am bouncing baby through an entire meeting or changing a diaper while thinking through the next steps of a test. Other days, I can really get into the flow of my work when baby sleeps peacefully for a two or three hour stretch while I work. Despite the challenges of working with baby, I love being able to bond with him and not miss those golden moments of growing up, and that is a huge benefit.