Since March of 2020 when COVID-19 was officially categorized as a pandemic, parents have been performing an elaborate juggling act in an attempt to meet work deadlines while educating and keeping their kids safe. For parents lucky enough to be able to work from home, there is much to be grateful for in terms of being "present" (those are heavy air quotes) for their kids, but there is also much to navigate.
Here are 7 ways employers can support their work-from-home workforce that's also homeschooling kids.
1. Help parents connect (and disconnect).
Especially in workplaces where there aren't a lot of other parents of school-age children, it's easy to feel alone with the added weight of homeschooling children in addition to the stress everyone is subject to right now. That's why it's so important to have a way for people at your organization to have a safe space for open communication.
- Give them a touchstone. Create a forum for WFH parents to connect, such as a Slack channel, so they can commiserate, offer advice and generally cheer one another on.
- Amplify their voices. Offer panel discussions where WFH parents share their experiences and learn from one another. Include a mix of employees from every level in the organization, different types of roles, and a diverse set of backgrounds to truly shine a light on the many unique ways colleagues are coping and doing their best to thrive.
- Respect their time. As much as parents need to connect, they also need to disconnect - from work. Don't assume they're available 24/7, and - no - they don't want to play virtual games in the name of team building over their lunch hour. No shade, just facts.
[Related: How to Manage Teams When Working Remotely]
2. Let them be flexible.
"Flexibility is huge for parents working from home. I'm grateful to both feel like I can be an effective parent and employee while working from home in this new age." - Allen Belsky, Sr. Customer Support Specialist at Glassdoor
- Allow for flex schedules. Whether that's working 6-9 then 12-5 or 10-3 then 7-10, let parents set their own hours so they're free to share kid duty with their partner, serve lunch and troubleshoot online learning snags.
- Permit PTO flexibility. Give parents at your organization the ability to use PTO hours toward a shorter workday or shorter work week. Especially with dwindling travel options, many parents might opt to use that time to help mitigate weekday stress.
- Grant more time off. For people with family obligations, including childcare and homeschooling, give them more paid time off and/or reduced hours.
- Reconsider job sharing. Companies are realizing that remote workforces can be highly effective, so perhaps they'll revisit the possibility of job sharing as a sustainable way to keep experienced employees with their company longer. The binary construct of full-time vs. not working may become a thing of the past.
3. Normalize disruptions.
Ever since the video of the toddler interrupting a live BBC interview went viral in 2017, there's been this softening around the perception of professionals who are also parents. No one was aghast by how an expert in his field could allow this to happen, and no one respected him less. Rather, people warmed to him knowing the plight of working in the midst of kids. And it's of course possible that the reaction would have been different (perhaps it wouldn't have gone viral) if the talking head were a woman (and that's a separate topic), but the truth is that people long for glimpses of humanity. When leaders let their people see behind the curtain - even if there are messy workspaces and messier kids there, everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
- Model behavior. Have leaders openly share their schedule modifications so others feel empowered to do the same. When executives show the human side of what we're all dealing with, employees feel like they've been granted permission to do the same.
- Make breaks a badge of honor. Encourage the use of status indicators - like a fork & knife for lunchtime or a school bus for helping kids with homework - on workplace communication platforms like Slack. Parents today are internalizing enough stress and guilt as it is, so there should be no shame in having to take a 30-minute (or more) break for healthy eating or helping to educate children. When employees see others using their lunch or school icons, they feel empowered to do so too.
- Hit pause on career growth expectations. Remember that your employees who are parents are still ambitious and may have bold career aspirations. But while they'll try their best to meet every deadline and key performance indicator, they may not hit it out of the park this quarter - or next. That does not mean that their performance has plateaued forever; it just means they're catching their breath on level ground for a hot minute. That has to be okay.
4. Practice meeting hygiene.
- Stick to the plan. Discourage last-minute changes to meeting times. Many parents take a look at the calendar with their partners or shared caregivers on Sunday to work out calendar blocking and coordinate the oversight of distance learning. Casually flip-flopping meeting times can cause major conflicts.
- Minimize meetings. Set a company-wide standard for what constitutes a required meeting, and set the bar high so that only business-critical conversations actually commandeer calendars.
- Establish no-meeting days. Designate at least one day a month for no meetings and encourage employees to speak up if their colleagues are not protecting and respecting that block of time.
- Set no-meeting hours. Consider the hours when the parents on your teams are most taxed, for example first thing in the morning - say between 8:30 and 9:30am when parents are going over schedules for the day with kids and making sure their computers are up and running, and block out those hours as meeting-free.
[Related: How to Run Productive Remote Meetings]
5. Provide tech support.
- Recognize the bandwidth burden. Help troubleshoot WiFi issues arising from overtaxed networks with multiple family members on video conference calls. Have your tech person or team gather a list of best practices for optimizing your internet connection. Bonus points for providing a stipend to cover work-from-home employees' need to upgrade their networks.
- Help drown out distractions. Let employees expense noise cancelling headphones if it would help tune out the in-house circus.
6. Boost childcare benefits.
- Watch their kids. Offer childcare support to your employees (bonus: it buys you a tax break from the federal government).
- Teach their kids. The law firm Fenwick & West is partnering with Bright Horizons to offer discounts on tutoring, schoolwork help and learning pods. A retailer in Georgia has hired facilitators to oversee virtual learning for employees' kids. One preschool in North Carolina has a classroom dedicated to providing care for children of the teachers who work there.
- Offer flex spending. Consider extending a dependent care Flexible Spending Account to your employees. These pre-tax accounts save parents around 30% on childcare expenses for kids under the age of 13.
- Give them money. Start a family support fund. Buffer, for example, instituted a benefit that provides a $3,000 stipend to teammates for each person who depends on their salary.
7. Send a care package.
- Food. Send out a healthy lunch or meal kit delivery once a week - or offer discounts on this type of service.
- Snacks. Ship out a box full of family-friendly snacks.
- Trophies. Send out actual gold medals. Seriously. I keep checking the mail daily, but so far...nothing.
And, remember, it's not just full-time employees who need compassion and understanding right now. Wendy Wood, Founder and Principal Designer, Wendy Wood Design, put it well: "Give grace. I am so lucky right now that my corporate clients are being understanding and giving me more time and flexibility with my projects. They have been understanding, compassionate and concerned for everyone's different situations."
Your people will remember how you supported them during COVID-19. To get involved in the conversation on Glassdoor and start managing and promoting your employer brand reputation, unlock your Free Employer Account today.