While most working parents have been trying hard to keep their children out of their Zoom work meetings, Jolene Cramer has been doing the opposite: she’s been letting her twin daughters join many of her video calls.
A former Microsoft executive, Cramer is the senior director of integrated marketing at Limeade and co-author of the new children’s book Take Care, which follows a child as she visits her mother at work. Recently, Vault spoke with Cramer about the benefits of including children on video calls, how you know if it’s right for you, how to set boundaries when working from home with kids, and how she negotiated a better work-life balance at Microsoft. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
Vault: First of all, how are you doing and how have you been managing during the pandemic?
Cramer: We’re doing as well as we possibly can be—and counting our blessings. My husband and I and our twin daughters (who are almost six years old) are healthy. My husband and I are employed and working from home. And working from home with our daughters has been wonderful, challenging, rewarding, and infuriating—all at once.
How long have you been working from home?
Since early March. That’s when my company, Limeade, an employee experience software company, closed its offices in Bellevue, Washington. At that point, the Covid-19 pandemic was very much emerging and centered in the Pacific Northwest.
Tell us about when your daughters started “joining” your Zoom meetings. What was the initial reaction by your colleagues? And how did that initial joining lead to your daughters making regularly appearances in your meetings?
So first, a bit of explanation. In hindsight, this wasn’t exactly my initial intention. However, my girls are young enough that they don’t totally comprehend what their mother’s work entails, and they figure if I’m home I’m fair game—for requests, to play, etc. And I’m lucky enough to have a home office, and it’s near the front door of our house and kitchen, which means it’s easy for the girls to “check on me” throughout the day. So, pretty much since Day 1, my girls have intermittently joined me in my office—to make requests, to check in, did I mention to make requests?
Everyone at Limeade has been extremely kind and understanding of them making appearances in meetings. Usually I let my daughters say hello, and then I get back to work and continue the conversation.
Do you recommend all working parents welcome their children into their home offices?
During this challenging time, where millions of people are creating new ways of working remotely from home, everyone has to create a scenario that works best for them. For many people, I can see where having their children come in and out of their office during the day just wouldn’t work—perhaps due to the nature of their conversations or if their work requires in-depth analysis.
However, for me, it worked well to welcome them in for a couple of reasons. First, it was easier than trying to keep them out. Second, I want to show them that their mom is doing something important—important for me, for our family, and for Limeade, a company that delivers solutions to organizations that, at all times, can help improve well-being, engagement, and communications, and is even more helpful at this time, during the crisis we’re going through now.
How else have you welcomed your kids into your workspace and working life?
I was recently inspired by my daughters and Limeade to co-author a book called Take Care with Dr. Laura Hamill, the chief science officer of the Limeade Institute. In 2019, Limeade published research on the importance of care in the workplace—whether or not an employee feels cared for can impact how long they intend to stay at that organization, how engaged they are, how likely they are to recommend the organization. All very critical metrics. And it was this same sense of care—for ourselves and others—that’s the core of what every parent wants to instill in their child. So, we wrote and published a children’s book that tells this message in a new way—through the eyes of a child visiting her mom at her workplace. The book was a perfect blend of my family life and professional responsibilities, and it’s been extremely rewarding to work on.
How do you recommend working parents set boundaries when working from home with their children?
I can only share or recommend what’s worked best for me during this time. First, I recommend arranging your calendar in such a way that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from your manager. I’m an information worker that sits in front of a PC all day, so not everyone has this flexibility. But if you need to provide care for your kids until late morning, how can you make that time up later? Block out your calendar, clear it with your manager, and communicate.
Second, one of my mantras is “no warm water,” meaning don’t try to do too many things at once. Know your limits and set boundaries accordingly. If I’m watching my kids, I try to focus on that. If I’m working, I try to focus on that.
Third, get help. Maybe it’s a babysitter a few times a week. A spouse. A partner. A neighbor. We have a part-time sitter who helps us during the week, and that allows me to focus on getting my work done. I make sacrifices in other areas so that we have that part-time help, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. While this isn’t always an option for everyone, I encourage others to tap into their networks and support systems in whatever form that might be. Send out the S.O.S.
Finally, hold it all lightly. Some days go really well, and some are truly horrific. Take care of yourself, and move on.
What do you see as the benefits and challenges of remote work with kids (especially if kids are remote learning)?
The benefits are so clear and compelling. I’m more connected and in tune with my kids than I’ve ever been. I’m no longer rushing out the door in the morning when they’re barely awake. We eat dinner together every night. I’m available for evening bike rides and walks that I wouldn’t normally be. Family has always been paramount, and this pandemic has only increased that.
The challenges are just as clear. There are many times that so many balls are being juggled, that it’s impossible not to drop one. Workload, assignments, important meetings, due dates, schoolwork, sharing devices, etc. That’s why it’s so important to enlist help if it’s possible.
Is there anything employers can do now to help make remote work better for working parents?
Each employee is different, with a different situation and family makeup. So I don’t believe there are any one-size-fits-all policies or approaches. I’d recommend that organizations have empathy and offer flexibility for working parents with kids at home. Managers should ask how working parents are doing, and really listen.
Before Limeade, you worked for Microsoft for 12 years. Can you talk a little about how you were able to negotiate more flexibility at Microsoft? And do you have any recommendations for employees looking to negotiate something similar?
At Microsoft, after I came back from maternity leave, I started working a less-than-full-time flex schedule—I was in the office three days a week. I found it very challenging to transition back to 40-plus hours a week in the office after having kids and experiencing the increased demands on my time. And so, I did what I always recommend others do: I asked for help. In general, I think that caregivers—and, in many cases, women—are afraid to ask. And I was extremely fortunate that my management at the time said “yes.”
What was important for me was the flexibility to complete my work using a non-traditional schedule—working off-hours so that I could be more available to my kids and family. And so, I outlined what was important to me, was clear about what exactly I needed, and I made the request. That’s what I always stress others do—determine what works best for you and don’t be afraid to ask for support from your manager. The worst that can happen is that your employer says “no,” but then you certainly know where you stand.
It’s also important to acknowledge that I’ve been very fortunate in my career, and I’m also in front of a computer all day, meaning I can basically work from anywhere. Different people in different industries will have different experiences. This has been mine.