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Fathers reflect on the joy of working remotely

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From hurried moments before school or bedtime to being present throughout the day, remote and hybrid working has given working parents increased time to interact with their children. With Father’s Day approaching, a few dads reflect how the work flexibility brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has enriched their family lives.

“I had minimal to no flexibility and together with travel time, I would find myself being away from home easily for 10 hours a day, missing all of my son, Jamie’s, milestones as he was growing up,” says Shalom Katzen, reflecting on his working hours before the pandemic. “If I wanted to attend his school concert or birthday ring, I would have to apply for a half day of leave.”

As a global IT director for an international technology and software-development company, and in previous positions, Katzen used to rush to make it home before his now six-year-old son went to bed. He started his IT director job just weeks before the national lockdown in 2020. While no-one knew quite what to expect when the country shut down, the company adapted, and Katzen realised that with the right degree of planning, the new reality could give him more quality time with his son.

“I set meetings when I knew that it would be calm at home and ensured I could be there to support my family while working,” he says. That’s not to say that it was a seamless transition. Katzen even found himself working in his car in the garage sometimes to find a quiet space. “Initially, I felt guilty when I had to tell Jamie that I couldn’t play with him as I was working,” he says.

“I’ve even had him join a few Zoom meetings with dinosaur toys walking across the back of my chair. At first, I was apologising, but I slowly started to embrace it since I wasn’t at the office and was, in fact, at home, sharing his space with him.” When Katzen’s company later allowed him to choose whether to work remotely or in the office, it was an easy decision.

“Planning my schedule correctly, I’m involved in a relaxed morning wake-up, we eat breakfast together, and I do school lifts whenever I can, watch him play soccer matches, or walk the puppies and take him to the park,” says Katzen. “This has brought us even closer, knowing that he won’t see me only at the end of the day.”

“My wife is a teacher, and she and I share parental responsibilities,” he says. “We’ve learned from these past two years – we have a system, and we work as a team. Jamie is thriving from having two parents who are actively involved in raising him.”

Working in digital marketing, Ryan Urdang, the father of two boys, was also office bound before COVID-19, fetching his older son, Jayden, from crèche at 17:00 each day. Working from home during the pandemic meant turning the dining room table into a workstation with frequent table-top visits from his small “co-worker”.

“Lunch breaks were my best when we would play in the garden,” says Urdang. “Jayden would ask all morning when it would be time to play. Now I have a second son, Asher, who’s nine months old, but both are at school and crèche. I’m office bound again but with a lot more flexibility. I often fetch my kids in the early afternoon, and then finish working from home.”

Though maintaining a work-life balance during the upheaval of the past few years hasn’t always been easy, nothing can replace the special moments Urdang gets to spend with his sons. “The best part of being a dad is seeing my boys happy,” he says.

Rowan Horwitz, a lawyer, changed jobs during lockdown. “In my previous position, I was based at clients and I usually left early and got home late. I did my best to be at home as much as possible but realistically, there were many days in which I would miss things like bath time.”

When Horwitz started his new job during the height of the pandemic, he didn’t go into the office at all for about a year. With his optometrist wife going out to work, he took on more responsibilities around the house. “We’ve always tried to split roles, but I would look after my son, Aaron, who was still a baby, a lot. I really loved being at home and spending more time with Aaron. When he went to crèche, I could be at home with him in the mornings and then take and fetch him. I could also do other helpful things at home – washing, cleaning, and cooking. It’s been a blessing.”

Having welcomed a baby daughter, Eliana, 10 weeks ago, Horwitz has loved being present. He now goes into work three times a week but is grateful to still be home often. “My wife is on maternity leave, so it’s been great to be home and be with her and Eliana, and to help out with Aaron.

“When Aaron was born, I went back to work after two weeks, and it was heart breaking not seeing him for 10 hours a day. It’s been a completely different experience this time because of the new way of working. I know for many people, COVID-19 was awful, but I’ve been blessed to be able to work from home and have enough time with my wife and kids.”

Martin Smookler, a chartered accountant, who has also worked remotely since the pandemic struck, agrees with this. About to launch a new skills development company with the BEE123 Group just as COVID-19 struck, Smookler delayed his plans and he and his wife prepared to welcome his third son, who was born in April 2020 in the midst of the hard lockdown. “It was an intense time to have a baby. We didn’t even know what was going to happen at the hospitals.” Yet all went well, and Smookler enjoyed his extended family time.

“It was the traditional way of the world when my first kids were born and time with them was limited by long work days. This was the other extreme. It was great. I got to be home all the time.” Having worked remotely since launching his company in July 2020, Smookler feels that working at home enables one to use time much more constructively. It allows more time for family, which provides an incentive to be more productive.

“You’re a lot more present, which is unbelievable. You get to see the growth and development, you’re there for the special moments, and to lend an extra hand. It’s been a game changer for all of us. The world has changed, and family has to take priority. You don’t want to spend most of your time at the office. Our family is of tremendous importance, and being closer to them and more intimately involved is the ideal.”

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