Innovative and empathetic ways companies can support working parent employees during the pandemic, with stories of what’s working now.
At 9 a.m. this morning, all 5 people in my house were on Zoom calls. The two adults had work meetings, and the three kids had their first online classes of the day.
Two of the students had technical difficulties logging in, which meant my own meeting was interrupted as I helped them get online. Meanwhile, all five of our microphones captured our dog single-handedly recreating the 101 Dalmatians all-dog alert.
This is my working parent reality for the rest of the calendar year.
And what a year it’s been for employees with kids. In the spring, we faced working while most childcare and school systems completely shut down. This summer, we continued figuring out how to handle work and parenting without many of the care and activity providers we usually rely upon. For many of us, our careers and financial stability suffered — especially if we are mothers.
And now, we’re in a school year, like none before.
My kids’ public schools are opening online-only, as are 52 percent of U.S. schools in the 2020-2021 school year. Another 27 percent of schools are implementing hybrid online/in-person programs, presenting parents with a host of scheduling challenges. All working parents are juggling education programs with big changes and much parental oversight required. And these new systems are subject to change with little notice.
So, how can employers support their team members with kids during the school year? On a positive note, there are as many answers to that question as there are employees. Ideally, every workplace can uniquely tailor their accommodations for working parents to the needs of their team members.
Here are some of the ways companies can support their working parent employees as kids head back to school. As is the Stories way, I’ve sought stories from parents and workplaces that illustrate these solutions.
Some good news: 43 percent of parents surveyed by Care.com said they feel their employers are more tolerant of them managing their children while working than they were at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Employees who receive their employers’ support and understanding respond with loyalty and employee engagement. My colleague Jill recently shared that the employee storytellers our team has interviewed via our Virtual Story Sessions have been eager to share stories of the support they’ve received from their companies.
As one business project manager publicly shared about her son’s attending school online while she works from home, “I’m thankful that I CAN do this and for a supportive boss and employer. Honestly, I’m excited just thinking about the work culture changes that could come from this very unprecedented time in history. Adapt & overcome!”
Extending remote work indefinitely
Some parents find that working from home is the most convenient way for them to juggle both professional and parenting duties in the pandemic. In response, more and more companies are extending their virtual work policies to their team members without an end in sight. For instance, Twitter leadership stated publicly, “If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.”
While professional employees find working from home and home-schooling stressful, for essential and wage workers, remote work isn’t an option. As a solution, companies such as CVS are championing flexibility for all of their team members. At CVS, this means offering working parents the choice of work hours on weekends, evenings or early mornings that do not conflict with their children’s online learning.
Providing education supports
In order to meet the needs of working parents with children attending school online, some workplaces are getting creative. Accenture and Bank of America have hired Bright Horizons to create alternative classrooms for employees’ children either at child-care centers or on-site at work. These programs will provide small-group supervision while children attend virtual classes.
And it’s not only large corporations who are providing education supports to parents. Montgomery Medical Clinic, founded by three doctors who are parents, has turned their conference rooms into learning centers for team members’ kids attending online school.
Partnering with daycare programs
Reliable, subsidized daycare for children too young for school has long been a dream benefit of American parents. And since covid and the subsequent shutdown of childcare centers, some workplaces are newly striving to provide it. The Broad Institute in Boston has increased their childcare subsidies for employees who are needed on-site. And, it has set up a fully-staffed backup care center, too.
Paid leave … and if it’s not enough, the option to go part-time?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act mandated that companies with up to 500 employees provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to parents with kids at home. Some larger companies such as Microsoft and Google have matched or exceeded that with their own covid-related paid parental leave programs. Many parents have taken that leave incrementally in order to balance the needs of their childcare and job.
But others have found that Families First, or their workplace cultures, have fallen short of their families’ needs in the pandemic. Once a team member’s leave has been used, their vacation taken, and flexibility stretched as far as possible, how can workplaces keep from losing valuable employees to burnout or career breaks? Allowing full-time employees to self-select part-time work temporarily could be an option in some cases. But this is a sensitive area, as the pandemic has the power to permanently derail the professional and financial lives of parents, notably mothers. Additionally, moving from a full- to part-time position could impact employee benefits such as health care.
Implementing a four-day work week
Mulling over these issues and my own stress managing my kids’ schooling, is enough to make me want to take a day off. And recently, Stories Inc.’s co-founders Lauryn and Scott decided to make our Summer Fridays a year-round policy. The entire Stories team has been successfully compressing our work into a four-day week since May, and productivity hasn’t faltered. So, the co-founders have opted to keep it going for the foreseeable future.
For this work-loving, three-student-overseeing mom, the four-day work week is a culture perk that cannot be topped. It shows a thoughtfulness for the needs of the team members during the pandemic and in this busy industry. This encompasses the flexibility, empathy, and support I receive as a member of the Stories team.
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