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This isn’t our usual working from home: parenting and working during COVID-19

Reading Time: 11 minutes

I have been a member of the remote workforce and a parent who works from home since 2009. I’ve worked from home as a mom of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, big kids, sick children. It has never been as difficult as parenting and working during COVID-19. This baffling time in history has not turned one-third of the workforce with kids into regular “teleworkers.” It has turned us into stressball monsters. It has turned us into something completely outside of the regular order.  

Pre-coronavirus, my working parent life was vastly different  

I have three kids. One in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. But until the pandemic hit, we had our flow! I adjusted my work hours to sync with the kids’ school hours, and we had aftercare and after school activities. In special circumstances, I hired a college-aged driver-nanny or called upon retired grandparents to provide additional childcare support. I had unlimited PTO and vacation leave for those times my family needed me or we all needed to get away. 

Life was busy, yet extremely fulfilling. My status as a parent had little impact on my productivity or team role. Sure, I probably told my Stories Inc. teammates too many stories of my kids’ activities and witticisms. But that’s the occupational hazard of working with a talkative mom who’s in marketing, right? 

The pandemic upended all balance 

Now, there’s no school for the kids to go to.
Instead, they’re attending three different schools remotely, and they all need help.
I can’t hire a tutor.
There’s no aftercare.
I can’t hire a sitter.
There’s no grandparent backup.
I’m working remotely.
My husband is working remotely.
All five of us are working on top of each other.
We can’t go anywhere.
All of our routines are utterly disrupted.
I am so stressed.

Parenting and working during COVID-19 is not our usual “working from home.”

“Working remotely” signifies privilege

And yet, I am so grateful. I am experiencing the highest work/parenting privilege possible for American workers during the pandemic. 

My family and I have our health. I do not have a job that puts me on the front lines of the virus. I’m still working, which means I have a job and I’m being paid. I am married to a person who is as equally involved in parenting as myself. He has a job and is being paid.

And in addition to that wealth of blessings, I am fortunate to work for a company that prioritizes culture. My personal values are aligned with the organization’s values, and my position provides me with purpose. Those are things I personally really need right now. And, Stories Inc. is consciously striving to provide an extraordinary level of care and flexibility for its employees during the pandemic. 

In crisis, the Stories Inc. culture has remained committed to its team 

The Stories Inc. co-founders both officially and unofficially check in with their team members daily, and they directly express to us that our jobs are secure. Scott has even written publicly that to him and Lauryn, good leadership means doing everything possible to avoid layoffs of their team members. They have reminded us that our unlimited PTO is in full effect during the crisis, and they have encouraged us to take off all the time we need. There may be a perception that only large companies can make those types of commitments, but that’s not the case here. Stories Inc. consciously cultivates a culture of care for its eight team members.

How the culture impacts this team member with kids

For me, that support means I have been able to take breaks during the workday to care for my family without worry about being perceived as showing subpar performance. I can let the team know on Slack when I need to take a break in the afternoon to take my kids on a walk, or to help my third grader with her online learning. Some of my emails are being sent and my deliverables are coming through at odd hours (i.e. when I can better concentrate), and any adjusted hours I have needed have been welcomed with open arms. 

I’ve also not been able to compartmentalize my parent life as separate from my work life, as I attempted to do pre-crisis. There have been times when I know my stress and near-tears status have been present in my voice. I completely missed an internal meeting this week due to an online school-related issue. I had a classmate of my daughter “Zoom bomb” the marketing meeting, since I’ve been using my meeting link to lead a third grade study group. And every time when I have expressed that I’m having a hard moment, I’ve been met with not only empathy, but accolades for my work. 

In my experience with workplace cultures, the Stories Inc. culture is extremely rare. And, its already-supportive culture has only become more so during this crisis.

A communicative culture of care is what parents, and all team members, need now

Organizations that acknowledge the enormous stress their team members are under, and consciously take measures to provide support, are communicating their values in the strongest way possible. 

That is real leadership. 

That’s a long-term view

That’s proving to your people that they are valued

Google and Microsoft show parents support through special paid leave 

Microsoft and Google have received a lot of attention for implementing a special coronavirus parental leave for their full-time employees. Acknowledging and seeking to alleviate the challenges of daycare and school closures, Microsoft is providing 12 weeks of parental leave, and Google 14 weeks. And this leave is in addition to employees’ regular PTO benefits. Of course, big tech companies like these can afford those generous benefits, and not all organizations can. 

However, history has shown us that when large, innovative companies make culture changes that are the right thing for their people, other organizations follow their leads. Paid parental leave, paternity leave, flexible hours, working remotely, and more People First benefits gained notice when adopted by big tech. Then, in order to attract and retain talent, other companies followed suit.

As the virus continues to impact the schools, childcare and the workplace, we at Stories Inc. are very interested to see if other companies will likewise adjust their leave policies for parents.

Google shares stories of parenting in the chaos

In addition to offering generous coronavirus parental leave, Google is sharing stories of employees navigating the current challenges of balancing work and parenting. On Google’s blog, The Keyword, a recent post by Lilian Rincon, Google’s Senior Director of Product Management for Google Assistant, really resonated with me as a working parent. Lilian shares how she and her husband take parenting shifts and have restructured their days in order to, as she says, “minimize the chaos.” Bonus: she shares how the product she heads up, Google Assistant, can be used to help parents, too. From the Stories Inc. vantage point, this story does double duty of communicating the value of the employer brand as well as the consumer brand. 

Great Place to Work values “extreme amount of flexibility” for parents

In their weekly webinar series, Together, Great Place to Work invites attendees to gather with their leadership team members to make sense of the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. A recent Together session focused on key actions organizations should be taking for recovery, and Tony Bond addressed the need for flexibility for team members

We need to be able to allow flexibility in how things get done. If you can imagine moving into a new house, it takes time to get set up. You may not have all the things you need, but you still have to press forward; the same scenario is happening with us working from home, and so it requires us to give people some freedom.

Kids, parents, pets are no longer a distraction. You may have a video conference, and you may have all those folks as a part of the video conference. And so how do we do that? We have to let people get things done in a way that fits their own schedule, we have to allow extreme amount of flexibility. 

Tony Bond, EVP & Chief Innovation Officer, Great Place to Work

His sentiments were echoed by his co-panelist colleagues. The Great Place to Work leadership team is advocating for organizations to redefine flexibility for employees during the crisis, and they are leading by example. 

I want to hear more stories of companies supporting parents during the crisis 

I hope my own story as a mom working at Stories Inc. has helped you feel less alone in this disordered time, and that my sharing of supportive cultures has been helpful, too. 

As a mother, and as an advocate of stories, I want to hear more stories of companies that are supporting parents during this school-less, childcare-less time. I would love to hear stories of companies doing all they can to let employees know they are not failing if they have to adjust their schedules, and their expectations of themselves. 

If you have a story to share, send me an email or tag Stories Inc. on social. And if you too are working while parenting through this crisis, hang in there.