This summer my family welcomed our second child. This fall, my son Toby and I became the pilot participants in a new program we’re calling Bring Your Atomic Baby To Work. With this experimental program, we’re hoping to expand our support for working parents and continue to make Atomic the sort of place where one can carve out a long career spanning many phases of life.
Doing the Legwork
As a woman in a technical field, I’m well accustomed to pushing for change, helping with equity initiatives, and demanding space for myself and others. But growing a baby is hard work. It’s enough of a statement in itself to work while pregnant, to be a technologist while pregnant. As I moved deeper into the third trimester, I simply didn’t have the physical or emotional capacity to consider, let alone advocate for, organizational change. That’s where Danielle came in.
Danielle is a member of Atomic’s business operations team, and she’s passionate about supporting our working parents. After hearing about the success of BYBTW programs at other organizations via some of our colleagues at Small Giants, Danielle took their ideas and lessons learned and pitched them to Atomic leadership. Over a few months (including while I was on leave), she did the research and gathered the supplies necessary to welcome a baby to an Atomic office.
I’m pleased to report that I have little insight into what it took to make this program a reality. Having another caring Atom champion the cause allowed me to focus my energy on balancing my responsibilities as a maker and a parent.
The Key Utilities
Making it possible to care for and work with a baby in the office has required an assortment of resources, both obvious and not:
Atomic gathered an assortment of baby care items that saved Atoms the trouble of buying a bunch of duplicate gear. These included:
- Pack n’ Play (stationed next to my desk)
- Bottle warmer
- Floor mats (for tummy time)
- Baby monitor
- Changing station and storage cubes for toiletries
We also have a conference room with a window shade and a locking door for nursing or pumping and a quiet corner with soft chairs. I’ve brought in both a stroller and a baby-wearing carrier for myself. I also keep an assortment of non-shareable convenience items at my desk, including pacifiers, burp cloths, and a nursing cover.
Much like when navigating a hybrid work environment, it’s good to know in advance who will be where and when. I tried two calendar experiments to help with this.
I shared out a calendar that showed Toby’s expected schedule for any colleagues who wanted to know when to expect an extra guest at our meetings:
Creating a calendar for him had a surprising and fun side effect — more on this below.
I also experimented with color-coding my calendar (jammed due to holding a leadership role on my team) according to when it was okay to bring an assistant:
This level of detail proved to be too painstaking to keep up with regularly, but the exercise helped me to build a general sense of the rhythm of my week. I used these visual cues to figure out what days and times worked best as I built routines.
Unconventional Work Modes
Certain things are hard about having a baby with me at work, and others are not. For instance, I can talk, think, and have a meeting just fine with a baby in my arms. On the other hand, it’s pretty tough to type on a laptop or sit in a conference room if he’s not in the mood to be worn or stand still.
Accordingly, we’ve invested in a quality wireless headset with a long range so I can easily step out of meeting rooms and walk him around while remaining on the line. I’ve also experimented with using a tablet to call into meetings and do light administrative work while moving. Much like at home, I’m always looking out for problems that might be easily solvable if only I had the right tools.
Bringing my son to the office simply would not work without the abundance of supportive colleagues I have who have stepped up to share the effort. Numerous Atoms have offered to spend an hour with Toby at their desks while I take a call, bring him on walks around the block, and even just hang on to him while I carry my coffee up the stairs. I made sure to set the stage to avoid awkwardness and welcome interested Atoms to visit with Toby:
And the aforementioned calendar that I set up for baby-office-time planning proved to be both a handy utility for me and a fun public interface for other Atoms:
These small reprieves during the day help to make longer days more feasible; needing to focus deeply for one hour of the day doesn’t necessarily preclude having Toby with me for the rest of it. And the Atoms who’ve volunteered are having a great time soaking up the unusual opportunity to hang out with a little one on the job.
How the Babies at Work Experiment Is Going
I’d like to say that BYBTW has been a smashing success and that I’ve completely solved the conflict between being a worker and being a mother. The truth is not that simple.
Atoms have made my son feel very welcome in the office, and we’ve had fun and successful days working together. But he is a baby, and as his needs change, he goes through phases when he’s easier and harder to work with. Sometimes he’s not in the mood for me to stand at my desk and program, and I really need to program. Sometimes I have to call my husband to bring him home earlier than I hoped.
Lately, we’ve found that it’s easiest to leverage our hybrid work mode. I stay home on days when I’ve got a lot of meetings and won’t be face-to-face with my Atomic colleagues anyway. Every day is a challenge as I juggle lost sleep, team responsibilities, and a baby who sometimes won’t accept anything less than his mama’s (and only his mama’s) full attention.
This effort is still a work in progress. I’d like to ascribe all of the challenges we face to conquerable systemic injustices. The fact is, though, that our biggest challenge as a pair isn’t anyone’s responsibility. It’s that he’s a baby, and babies bring turbulence and unpredictability to our lives. The most important thing that our org and our colleagues can give us is grace as we ride the waves.
If you’re interested in implementing your own babies-at-work program or just want to talk shop about babies and being a working parent, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below!