In recent weeks, many companies have had to embrace telecommuting and remote work in order to continue to operate during the quarantines that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.
These changes challenge all employees, but they may be particularly difficult for parents. With school facilities closed and children at home, the lines between work life and personal life have become blurred for working parents, many of whom are pulling double duty as amateur schoolteachers.
To learn how companies can help their employees who are in this situation, we spoke with Karsten Vagner, Vice President of People at Maven Clinic, a leading women’s’ and family digital health company.
He shared some creative ideas and examples of how employers can support working parents that are now working, teaching and parenting at the same time.
1. Support the transition to working from home
“It’s important to meet people where they are,” says Karsten. “While some employees may have relatives or others in their home to provide childcare, others may be trying to maintain work and childcare single-handedly. Consider giving your team the time to adjust to their new reality, and show them you want to invest in them.”
Here are a few ways companies can do this:
- If possible, provide a stipend to help support their transition to remote work.
- In the case of working parents, ensure they are able to get not only equipment they need to build out home offices, but also streaming services, books, toys, or other supplies to keep their children occupied and entertained.
He also suggested, if possible, closing your company for some period of time to help everyone settle into their new situations:
“We gave everyone one Friday off at Maven and while people appreciated the gesture, our parents specifically called out how much they valued having the extra time to build and establish new routines and schedules with their families.”
2. Co-create solutions and be extreme about flexibility
Karsten points out that in moments like this, “it’s easy to go right into problem-solving mode, but there’s a danger in making top-down decisions that aren’t based in data.
“To best support working parents, go straight to the source and ask them what they need.
“Spoiler alert: there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but in talking to your employees, you’ll not only learn about the varying situations you can help support at your company, you’ll also be giving your working parents a forum to feel heard.
“Maintaining those lifelines and relationships with your employees is more critical now than ever.”
Give your employees complete flexibility to schedule their work around what needs to get done at home with their kids:
- Some employees may need to start their workdays later or end earlier
- Others may need to carve out days where they have no meetings
- Some might prefer to block hours of time throughout their days to manage childcare.
In our recent “Together” discussion, Great Place to Work® CEO, Michael C. Bush encouraged full flexibility, “Let people get things done …in their own way …on their own schedule.”
Karsten says, “at Maven, we welcome all of those approaches. The most important piece is building alignment with managers and teams so working parents can be assured that however they need to manage their schedules, they have the support of their colleagues.”
3. Help employees access care
Access to all healthcare, including mental health, is critical right now. Employees may be:
- Experiencing coronavirus symptoms
- Worried about family members
- Caring for a child who is experiencing anxiety or sleep regression
Your employees might be juggling a combination of these things.
These employees need more support now than ever before.
Karsten shared how Maven helps its employees get the care they need:
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our employees had annual credit to work with providers on our platform. Since then, we have been offering them unlimited free access to our platform to help connect our employees with care.”
4. Build social connections
Quarantine is an isolating experience, and the more bridges you can help your employees build, the better.
Karsten suggests connecting parents in your company so they can support each other:
“Give your working parents a forum to share with and help each other.
“You’ll be amazed at how willing parents are to give support, especially now, whether it is tips for homeschooling, how to balance creating a new family schedule, recipe sharing, book recommendations or homework help.
“Plus, everyone needs a place to do some healthy commiserating.”
He also suggests creating opportunities for parents to include the whole family in work-sponsored activities and virtual events. Examples of this at Maven include:
- A “Halloween” kids costume contest
- Family Bingo
- Remote karaoke
The community this creates can inspire non-parents to step up in creative ways to support their colleagues, Karsten says, “we’ve even had team members record themselves reading their favorite children’s books for parents to share with their children at home.”