I wrote about the novel topic of teleworking often and produced two editions of the book Working from Home in New Zealand with Helen Vause.
It was unusual back then to ask your employer if you could telework … telecommute … work remotely or, heaven forbid, work from home because you wanted ‘work-life balance’.
Or even because you had to, if you were to juggle work and care.
As a worker you had to be physically present unless you were a farmer, transport operator, or worked in other non-office jobs.
The only reason I was allowed to work from my Northland home, far from the buzzing offices of Wellington Newspapers, was that writing about technology, e-commerce, and telecommunications wasn’t seen as trendy by reporters at the time.
I was reliable and competent and could meet tight deadlines. It was less of a hassle to keep me on (even at a distance) than to train up someone else. Plus, I had a wonderfully supportive boss who knew my partner and saw what we were facing.
Bless her. I was able to keep going for another seven years.
Even before Covid-19 drove flocks of New Zealanders to their dining tables and back bedrooms, devices in hand, many of us were already working from home (for some of the time, at least).
These days employers are obliged to consider worker requests for flexibility, and a growing number are actively encouraging this. Perpetual Guardian with its four day week springs to mind.
Hindsight may show that Covid-19 was the tipping point for working from home to become the norm.
Employers have realised that staff may be out of sight, maybe even out of mind, but as productive as ever. And in the news they are openly wondering why they are paying high commercial rents when there is money to be saved if more staff can work from home and want to do this.
Something to consider when everyone is flat out rebuilding, innovating, rebooting.
The launch of CareWise is happening at a unique time.
More than ever, being able to work flexible hours, perhaps from home, is important to our country’s family carers.
For weeks now they have been supporting a vulnerable person who is frail, unwell, or has a chronic condition or disability to get through Covid-19.
Almost 90% of the country’s workforce are working age – they’ve been caring with less support than usual due to service shutdowns or fear of exposing a loved one to the virus by having visits, even from trusted support workers.
They’re reviving too, and CareWise can help.
It’s an easy way to help employers assist the 1 in 8 of every workplace who is a carer. They can use Carers NZ’s information, tools, helpline, and other resources to ensure the carers they employ are getting the support they need.
This will help carers worry less and keep focused at a time when they might be at risk of leaving their jobs.
Most family carers do want to keep contributing and working – for financial reasons (obviously), and also to use their skills, stay connected to colleagues, ply their trades, and save for retirement.
CareWise is here for them, and provides a simple pathway for employers to share our resources and refer carers to us for personal advice.
We’re looking forward to helping carers and employers during this rebuilding period, and to creating a country of carer friendly workplaces.
CareWise won’t solve every issue or save every job for carers for whom the juggle has become too much.
We’re here to help those carers, too. They need different information and support, notably what assistance may be available as they transfer to a fully committed caring situation.
We can also help carers who are returning to work after their caring time has finished for whatever reason. They need to understand their options, and what financial, practical, and training support is available.
The employers we talk to are curious about carers.
They know that if you are a family carer, you have empathy, compassion, tenacity, and commitment – qualities employers want in their teams.
Some are offering an open door hiring policy for carers regardless of their work history or qualifications; we’ll be promoting these relationships to carers looking for new opportunities.
Back when I was blending work and care, because I could keep working I could pay the mortgage, sustain professional relationships, and start the not for profit that became Carers NZ.
CareWise is meaningful to me for this reason. Not every carer can keep working. Not every employer gets it. But if we bridge the worlds of work and care wherever possible, New Zealand will be better off. We’ll be walking the walk – being the kind of society we say we are.
This wasn’t the experience of many carers I’ve known, including Arthur, who I wrote about in the 1990s when he couldn’t find work that accommodated caring for his Mum even though he had good IT skills. Nor was it the experience of high-ranking Revlon executive Fred Tepperman, who wasn’t allowed to work flexible hours so he could sustain his job while caring for his wife, who had Alzheimers. Harold had the gumption to take Revlon to court. His groundbreaking case for working carers, one of the first in the world, was eventually settled out of court.
Needless to say, I supported Team Fred and didn’t purchase a Revlon product for more than a decade. But I recently made peace with the brand after Revlon’s New Zealand subsidiary offered to sponsor the New Zealand Women’s Weekly’s new Star Carer monthly feature recognising our country’s unsung family carers. Star Carer had just started rolling when Covid-19 hit New Zealand and its media, resulting in the closedown of iconic titles like NZWW and The Listener.
These are strange times, forcing new ways of doing things and sudden, unthinkable disappearances like those of our longest-running publications. Thanks for thinking of carers, NZWW staff, and Revlon too – we wish you all the best and really appreciate what you tried to do with Star Carer.
So here we are … CareWise is born.
And not before time.
Because we need our carers more than ever – and more than ever, they need a helping hand so they can keep working, keep caring.
Laurie Hilsgen is Carers NZ’s chief executive. Carers NZ thanks the Ministry of Social Development for making CareWise possible and also our partners who over many years have contributed time and thinking to develop this programme. Photo: unsplash.com