Parents combine work lives with raising a child
New York — ''We both wanted to continue our careers, but we also wanted to raise our baby ourselves.''
This is the way Luci and Frank Knight, both product marketing managers for the New York Telephone Company, begin the explanation of their own solution to the growing and perplexing problem of dual-career parents.
When daughter Lauren arrived, the Knights devised a means of working both at home and at corporate headquarters, so that one parent would always be with the baby. They presented their plan in a straightforward manner to their company's management and personnel offices. The technology existed, they argued, that could enable them to be fully as productive working at home as in the office.
The Knights said they felt that perhaps they could approach things in a new and nontraditional manner and find a new way for getting things done. They said they were pleased that their company valued experienced personnel and was willing to allow them to try their plan on an open-ended, experimental basis. It held them to the same objectives and goals they said they had when they both commuted to the office daily, with a 1 1/2-hour commute at either end of their working days.
What the couple worked out was a particularly close coordination of all the activities of their two separate jobs, as well as of the duties involved in home and child care. Because of the nature of their jobs, they have been able to juggle an alternating schedule each week. The days Mr. Knight commutes to the office, Mrs. Knight does her office work at their home in a Westchester suburb and takes care of the baby.
The days Mrs. Knight rushes off to the commuter train to New York, Mr. Knight takes care of his professional chores in the at-home work station that is an exact replica of the one they each have in their downtown office. He also enjoys the care and companionship of Lauren, now ten months old. When both parents must both be away on business for a day or so, one of Lauren's two grandmothers, who live within 75 miles, is delighted to baby-sit.
In the beginning of their experiment, the couple did not have a well-defined work area at home, which they soon discovered was a mistake. For the necessary discipline, they found, they needed a work space where nothing else went on. They converted a spare bedroom to house their at-home work station. It was electronically equipped by their employer with terminal equipment; a unit for storing information until ready for transmission to the headquarters office via telephone lines; and a hands-free telephone, automatic dialer, and call-forwarding and call-answering devices.
The company is using this unusual divided work schedule experiment as a means of testing its equipment in at-home work situations. The Knights claim that modern technology is actually allowing them to work just as productively at home , where they are free from many of the distractions and interruptions of the corporate office.
Neither partner, however, would like to work at home all the time. Mrs. Knight explains: ''We both enjoy contact with people and having an exchange of ideas. I think of myself as a working woman who is probably going to have a long career, so the stimulation that comes from moving in the professional mainstream seems important to me.''
Lauren is proving to be a sensitive, adaptable, and accommodating baby. The office in the family home has become a normal part of her environment, and she feels comfortable there, Mr. Knight says. He feeds Lauren in the office and often works with her sitting in his lap. ''She enjoys this and seems to be aware that this is a time for us to be together, but not a time for her to be noisy and playful,'' he says.
Mrs. Knight feeds Lauren in the kitchen and places her in a playpen in the office while she is working. When break times come they take a walk outside, talk to each other, play awhile, and share a snack.
The Knights' plan has been in place for about eight months, since Lauren was eight weeks old. It operates with no outside household help. Both parents share shopping, housekeeping, and cooking responsibilities.
Summing up their experience so far, Mr. Knight comments, ''We feel we have been able to work out a productive, thriving worklife and yet have the blessings of parenthood. This project has also much more closely integrated our work and our home life and has enriched both, we think.''
Many departments of the New York Telephone Company, which employs 80,000 people, are watching the experiment with much interest. The Knights are making regular reports on their progress, and results are being studied and evaluated.
''Obviously, the personnel department is following this experiment with great interest,'' says Adrian Yanekian, the departmental staff manager of personnel. ''As we gain more experience, we will be better able to assess the effectiveness of such a plan, including its possible application to other telephone company jobs. But right now, we feel we still have a lot to learn about work at home.''
Another company official says this experiment may or may not be a first step toward new modes of employment (particularly for dual-career couples), but that it is at least giving the company an opportunity to observe, evaluate, and learn from an actual situation.
According to figures released during a Women in the Workforce Conference in 1980, Mr. Knight says, there were 20.3 million families in which both husbands and wives worked. He says this figure has grown to an estimated 26 million families. The experiment that the Knights are conducting as they attempt to combine their work lives with the raising of a baby is just one of many others taking place around the country that may eventually change some of the traditional patterns of employment.