Addressing the Forum on Workplace Flexibility held by the White House Council on Women and Girls, Obama said helping American workers meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families should be a priority of businesses and the government.
Changing demographics in recent decades have resulted in more women in the work force and more families in which both parents work, Obama said.
"To these families, every day is a high-wire act" of tight schedules that can easily be disrupted by sickness, a car breaking down or other common occurrences, the president said.
That was the case for the young Obama family back in Chicago, Illinois, he said.
"It took a toll," Obama said, adding that his family "had it relatively easy" because they had good health insurance and help from Marian Robinson, the mother of first lady Michelle Obama.
In comments to the forum earlier Wednesday, the first lady also spoke of the Chicago days, saying she often felt unable to keep up with both her job and her family responsibilities.
She told of going to a job interview with her newly born daughter Sasha because she couldn't find a baby sitter.
"I prayed that her presence wouldn't be an automatic disqualifier," the first lady said.
As a manager, Mrs. Obama said, she found that flexible policies permitting employees to work from home and make other adjustments to regular routines "make employees more, not less, productive."
Her husband made the same point, telling business leaders at the forum that looking out for the interests of their workers can benefit everyone.
"What's good for your workers and good for their families can be good for your bottom line and shareholders as well," Obama said. The federal government was considering allowing more flexibility for its workers, he said.
The forum included working sessions in which participants traded ideas on policies and practices to bring flexibility to the workplace, including training managers on the concept, focusing on results instead of daily
attendance, and using technology such as Internet access, teleconferences and other communications tools to enable flexibility.