As the school year begins, employees with children may be concerned about how they are going to balance work and childcare responsibilities. In many locations under restrictions or lockdowns, daycare services have yet to resume and some school districts have decided to open the school year with virtual instead of in-person learning. Children at home, especially young children, require adult supervision, meaning some employees who are being invited back to the office may not be able to return or dedicate their complete attention to work during the normal 9 to 5.
For employees with children, consider adjusting protocols and policies to accommodate parental responsibilities. A little compassion and empathy can go a long way in keeping your employees engaged and productive, helping ensure that you can retain and get the best work out of your top talent.
What Schooling Looks Like Post-Pandemic
According to the Early Care and Education Consortium, 67% of American children under six have all available parents in the workforce. As school reopening plans remain chaotic, that means that kids who might normally be in Pre-K or kindergarten will need to be looked after. Depending on space arrangements, schools may only be at 50% capacity or even less, which means more children at home at an age when they're still too young to be left alone.
Many schools are returning with flexible arrangements which allow all children to benefit from partial in-person schooling while respecting the need for physical distancing, wearing masks, and other health measures. Some children may have the option of attending school online, which means they'll be at home and will need an adult on site. Other schools will not open for at least the first few months of the fall semester.
In short, each parent’s childcare situation is unique. There are a handful of polices and protocols you can put into place to give employees who have children some breathing room without sacrificing productivity.
Allow Flexible Working
Let your employees know that you are open to flexible working arrangements to support them in balancing their childcare responsibilities with their office work.
A good first step is to work with your HR team to define your company- or team-wide work policy. This provides employees with an official guidepost and offers you the opportunity to formalize your expectations. With so many rapid changes and the inability to have conversations face-to-face, some employees may be feeling insecure or disconnected from their work. Clearly communicating that you’re flexible and you’re willing to accommodate them can go a long way in breaking down these invisible barriers.
Abandon the 9-5 Mindset
Flexibility also applies to time. Parents with kids at home likely won't be able to complete everything within the standard working day. Abandon the culture of "presenteeism" in favor of one that focuses on the accomplishment of essential tasks. Separate the tasks that are really time sensitive from those that aren't, to allow employees to balance their schedules.
One way to break “presenteeism” thinking is to define each employee in terms of their deliverables. Ask yourself: what exactly is it that this employee is responsible for? If an employee, such as an accountant or an analyst, is responsible for delivering a specific document, hold them accountable to the document rather than their availability during working hours. Use asynchronous means of communicating — email rather than messenger — so they can do their work on their own time without feeling an abundance of urgency. This approach could help parents with younger children who may be more productive at night after their kids are asleep. By holding them accountable to the deliverable and not their presence, you may be relieving some pressure and ultimately, getting your best work out of them.
Consider Going Fully Remote
With all the uncertainty, going fully remote could be a good move. In recent months, many companies have announced that employees can work from home for the rest of 2020. Some have gone even further, and are now "digital by default", as Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke tweeted. This approach won't just support employees with kids; it will help all employees.
Committing your company to remote-first work is a big step, but if many of your employees are parents or expecting parents, you may have the perfect reason to make the change. Additionally, offering full-time remote roles may provide you with a significant competitive advantage over your peers who require in-person work.
Be Aware of Employees' Circumstances
Children may not be the only dependents your employees are concerned with. For example, there are parents who are caring for family members with disabilities, elderly relatives or those who have underlying conditions, and therefore have to stay home. Local health guidance might mandate that they stay at home, so again, allowing flexible and remote working is a must.
Parents with kids at home likely won't be able to complete everything within the standard working day. Abandon the culture of "presenteeism" in favor of one that focuses on the accomplishment of essential tasks."
Plus, many people are now more aware of the balancing act many parents face. Try to empathize and put structures in place to connect employees with helpful resources and consider making allowances and exceptions for employees in need. One way you can pull this awareness through to the policy level is to eliminate mandatory attendance for team and project meetings. Ask an employee to volunteer to take notes of meetings and have them send the recap and next steps to the employee directly. This practice has an additional benefit of helping you develop better meeting discipline, understanding what’s worth people’s times and what can just be sent by email.
Implement Family-Friendly Policies
It's important to ensure that all employees are comfortable taking advantage of the policies in place to support them, and it's essential that workers know they won't be penalized for doing so. UNICEF recommends communicating with employees about available options and ensuring there's no gender bias in their application.
An April 2020 Intermedia survey of 250 business owners found that 57% of business owners plan to increase the options for remote working once restrictions ease. The study found that businesses with those options had reduced overheads, increased employee availability and improved employee satisfaction. Those are benefits any business could use.
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