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The 40-hour work week - with the image of the suited businessman sitting at his desk, at his office, for eight straight hours - is dependent on the total absence of children; or, at least, that the endless task of childcare is delegated to someone other than the office worker.
However, the Berlin start-up tech scene is, in many ways, the antithesis of this Mad Men idea of office life. Here at keylight flexibility is king, and we do whatever we can to support all keylighters in balancing work with other commitments. The ongoing pandemic has only complicated the delicate task of balancing work and home life, so I sat down with two of our working parents to chat about what it’s like to be a keylighter with young children.
Jan-Hendrik Prinz, known in the office as JP, has been a Digital Solution Architect at keylight for four years. He and his wife are working parents to a set of twins who will turn six in June. When the pandemic first hit Berlin JP started working mostly from home, an option available to all keylighters, plague or not. Although sharing a home office with a couple of five year olds can be a little distracting, the lack of commute and flexible working hours means that JP has more time both for his work and for his children. Because keylight has no fixed working hours, it’s not a problem if JP works later in the day so he can look after the kids in the morning whilst his wife works. Although JP admits that he’s gasping for a holiday - the unexpected kita closures at the end of last year swallowed his planned Christmas vacations - between keylight’s accommodating work policies and the flexibility of his wife’s self-employment, the Prinz family is getting by.
David Karcher is another Solutions Architect at keylight with a young family; he and his wife have a 6.5 year old boy and a 14 month old girl. David started at keylight just before his second child was born, and was able to take parental leave almost immediately and extend it for another month to help his wife finish her studies. Like JP, David had a difficult time in December when the kitas closed, but he was able to ride it out with parental leave. At the moment there is a time overlap between getting his daughter to kita and his son to school, but home office and flexibility has helped with the chaos of the daily school run.
Both David and JP said that the best thing about being a working parent at keylight isn’t just our flexible work hours and home office policies, but that our office culture is sympathetic and understanding of just how difficult it can be to be a working parent, especially in these unprecedented times. Between our working parents and working students, everyone at keylight is used to accommodating colleagues who are trying to keep several plates spinning. JP says ‘it’s good that everyone at keylight is flexible and understanding. I don’t remember anyone commenting “oh, it’s your kids again,” or anything like that. If I leave work to take care of the kids, it’s fine for everyone.’
Beyond this upside-down world of closed kitas and homeschooling, David says that the best thing that a company can do for working parents is to listen. ‘Give parents as much freedom as possible because no two families are the same. Depending on the age of the children the challenges are completely different.’ For JP, a company that understands what is important to employees is vital to maintaining a supportive work environment. ‘For me the kids are very important, so if I feel like I have to constantly justify that things are this way it would be difficult. I don’t feel that way at keylight.’
For some keylighters working full time simply isn’t an option - and that’s perfectly okay. JP tells me that the Berlin tech scene by and large rejects the ‘eight hour model’, and full-time employees can take time off or switch to part time work without negatively impacting their careers; unlike in other sectors where parents can face discrimination for reducing work hours or asking for accommodations. JP says that in his circle working parents of all genders are very normal, and fathers contributing money and childcare time equally with their partners is the new working status quo.
Although our current working parents are all fathers, we at keylight recognize that the burden of childcare disproportionately impacts mothers, and that the current situation has hit women hardest. Women represent 39% of the global workforce but account for 54% of all COVID-related job losses, largely because the burden of unpaid labour often falls on women. As part of our commitment to include, elevate, and amplify women, keylight is strongly opposed to the workplace discrimination faced by pregnant employees and working mothers, and will offer the same empathy and support to all working parents at keylight.
Although keylight is still going strong, the current situation has undoubtedly had an impact on work life; especially as some of us have found ourselves sharing an office with miniature humans. However, although we are a tech company, we’re very much people first - and we understand that our keylighters need empathy and flexibility to navigate their own work/life balance. After all, we are a future-oriented company with a future-proof product; it’s on us to realize that our kids are the future.