When I suggested my father come to work with me for a day, I should have known that, despite my best efforts, he'd turn up well before I did. And that he'd be multi-tasking before I'd even put my mascara on. "I'm already at your office," he texted. "But since you're not here yet, I'll go to the Post Office because I've got a package to send. Do you want a coffee when you get in? Where from?" Still, at least he was getting the lattes in.
Depending on their age, most people I've asked have either brought their children to work, or have been to one of their parents' workplaces as a child themselves, either due to a school-backed day of office exploration or because of teacher training, school holidays or a lack of childcare. Bring their folks in? Not so much. Well, not at all. It wouldn't have occurred to me, either, until I read about Google's first Take Your Parents To Work Day in New York earlier this year.
Thanks to the hi-tech complexity of what many of the corporation's employees do (as well as the fact that so many of them are under 30), Google turned its attention to explaining to mums and dads what it is that their children do all day, through workshops and a tour of the 16-storey office. While I don't wrangle complex data or create algorithms, I thought my father might like to see what my job entailed. As a reader of The Independent, he jumped at the chance to see what goes into producing a daily paper.
Once I'd arrived, I gave him a quick tour of the newsroom, explaining that it was fairly empty first thing, but would fill up over the day. As I prepared for morning conference – the meeting in which editors put forward their lists of what they intend to run in the next day's paper – my dad suggested ideas. And chatted about what my brother and sister had been up to. And told me about the new bargains he'd acquired from eBay. And… "Dad," I said. "We need to play the quiet game for a bit." Suddenly, a colleague's joke years ago that sitting next to me was like listening to "Radio Armstrong" struck home.
This came as no surprise to Maya Forrester, a human resources officer, whom I spoke to for an HR perspective on employees bringing their parents, rather than their children, to the workplace. "Parents would be much more stressful. I think they would affect your performance – I can't do anything when my mum is watching! Also, they are more likely to interrupt and ask questions and disturb everyone else."
The Editor certainly looked quite stressed when I introduced my father in conference – as dad bounded up with his hand outstretched, the Editor looked as though he feared a telling off about working conditions or a lecture on why I should be promoted.
Not all bosses are quite so spooked about having parents wandering about the place. On Thursday, companies in 14 countries will throw open their doors to parents as part of the first LinkedIn Bring In Your Parents Day. The social network came up with its plan after commissioning a survey about parents' awareness of their children's jobs. Although 97 per cent of the parents polled were proud of their offspring's achievements, 46 per cent didn't fully understand their child's job. And more than a quarter of adult children believed that it would benefit both them and their parents if there were greater understanding about their careers.
"My team was talking about how their parents have had wonderful careers and they have wonderful advice to give but they don't always know what we do," explained Danielle Restivo of LinkedIn. "It sprang out of the fact that I had recently got an email from my mum that said: 'I've been trying to explain to my friends what it is you do and I just can't. Please write me a short paragraph that's very easy to understand and I will carry it around with me and use it when I'm describing what you do.' Other colleagues have had similar experiences. While our parents are proud of us no matter what, there's a bit of a gap there, especially because a lot of the jobs that exist today didn't exist five or 10 years ago."
Although my dad is media- and computer-savvy and had a pretty good idea of the basics of my job (come up with ideas for articles, ask people to write them, put them on the page) there were parts that had obviously been a bit of a mystery to him. Why we'd cover certain stories and not others, the production programme we used to create the paper and who did what and why. I had no qualms in giving him some work to do, though. As a self-confessed gadget nut, I asked him to research some shopping pages – if he could find time in between bouts of advising my colleagues which consumer tech they should be buying. He also bought a round of teas, which made him very popular.
LinkedIn's suggestions for its parents-to-work day sound a bit less arduous. "We did a trial of the day in our Dublin office and what we found worked really well was a half day," says Restivo. "Parents came in in the afternoon, there was a presentation about what LinkedIn is, they had a chance to ask some questions and get to the nitty gritty. They had a tour of the office, got to spend some time with their kids at their desks. Then there was a cocktail reception to wrap things up." Part-timers! Still, I let my dad go home at 5.30, about two hours before I usually leave, as he was on duty with my younger siblings.
LinkedIn's research also looked into which jobs baffle parents the most. In at number one was user-interface designer, with PR manager ranked seventh. Eleanor Jones, strategy director at Splendid communications agency (aka a high-flying public relations professional), is bringing her mother to work this week. "Over the years, my mum Sandra has taken an active interest, so she does know what I do. I think that what she probably can't picture is the day-to-day tasks," she explained. "When I moved jobs, one of the first things my mum said to me was "can you take a picture of your desk?" so she could picture where I was. That's the biggest excitement for me: that she's going to come in and spend time with the people I spend an awful lot of time with and see what I actually do."
I had a great time showing off my dad, and showing him what I do and why I love it and it was very sweet the next day when he called excitedly from the airport saying he'd seen some of the pages we'd worked on in front of him in his newspaper. He can come back any time he likes – he makes a very good cuppa.
For more information on LinkedIn's Bring In Your Parents Day visit linkedinbringinyourparents.com
Mike Armstrong, parent
When Rebecca called me on a Friday to tell me about the scheme that Google had tried out, I immediately said yes – and came in the following Monday.
Over the weekend, I remembered taking my little girl (who was seven at the time, I think) to my office in Slough, where all the ladies in the office made a fuss of her.
She learnt something of my world that day: I was in sales for a German chemical company, and when asked what her daddy did for a living, shortly afterwards, she answered confidently: "He sells potions"!
I hadn't realised the Indy's office was in such an impressive edifice (the old Barkers department store in London's Kensington High Street), so that was a good start.
I saw a modern newspaper office, got to meet many of Rebecca's closest colleagues and listen to (and take part in) several discussions on the items set to be in the coming week's editions. I was allowed to sit in on the editorial meeting, although given strict instructions to keep schtum!
For me, the highlights were the nice comments about my beloved girl from her colleagues and the opportunity to stroll around Kensington's back streets with her, to find lunch.
"Take Your Parent to Work" was a great idea and allowed me to visit a work environment, very different to mine, and – most importantly of all – spend a rare day with my "tallest daughter".
I think that more companies should try it.