Working parents have been bearing incredibly heavy burdens during the pandemic.
How can companies do a better job of supporting these unheralded heroes? You can start by implementing these nine ideas:
1. Embrace the WFH transition, and actively support hybrid workers.
Flexibility is king right now.
And increasingly, employees are willing to walk if they don’t get it. This applies especially to working parents, but clarity, expectations and specific accommodations must complement any flexible schedule arrangements.
Most employees have garnered the tools and knowledge to successfully work from home by now. But set aside time to discuss what problems your team is experiencing with their families and working from home. Then, find ways to make their lives a bit easier.
Ask your employees about their home offices to ensure they have all they need to succeed. If not, consider giving them a stipend to do so.
You could also provide them with advice or resources on how to make the most out of working from home. Even basic tips like reminders to frequently unplug and get outside can make a world of difference. Our company decided to provide streaming services like Disney+ for workers to help keep their children entertained during summer.
We’ve all had to create and adjust to new routines and schedules during the pandemic, and many parents are still struggling to find any sort of balance. Companies should be proactive about supporting its working parents and taking strides to ease their burdens.
2. Embrace “windowed work.”
Let’s be real, The traditional 9-to-5 schedule may not ever have been effective. This is doubly true for working parents.
One solution is to offer “windowed work.”
“What we found is that there are certain needs that you’ll want to overlap with other people, particularly for collaboration,” explains Jennifer Dennard, co-founder of Range. But, most “work can actually be done asynchronously, and that actually opens up a big opportunity for people to work different schedules, especially if they have children or other people they are caring for.”
So, you and your team would schedule specific times to meet and collaborate virtually. For example, everyone could be online from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to check emails or Slack messages. Or, you could schedule a team meeting every Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Outside of those windows, everyone can spend their time however they want. So, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., they may eat breakfast and get their children set up for the day without having to worry about work. You get the idea.
“If I was expected to be working 9-5, my anxiety levels would be super high,” adds Range co-founder Daniel Pupius. That’s “because I would be listening to things in our living room, I would be not able to help out, and it would be a very exhausting day for the rest of the family.” Overall, “I think by working in blocks, you’re actually alleviating some of the stress and anxiety and the pressure that faces the family as a unit.”
Dennard says that windowed work should be broken down into the following steps:
- Create shared “handbooks” with your team so everyone is aware of each other’s projects and priorities.
- Schedule daily check-ins.
- Schedule time for connection, such as virtual lunches.
- Align team goals.
3. Be empathetic (and realistic).
Empathy is one of the most important skills a leader should possess. Especially during unpredictable times such as these.
Trying to keep the business on track and ramp back up makes empathy harder for everyone, but leaders can show their leadership skills at this time by:
- Being supportive and understanding, as opposed to taking the “tough love” approach.
- Easing up on rigid scheduling.
- Actively listening and asking empathy-building questions such as, “How are you feeling?” or “How are your kids doing?”
- Modeling healthy work habits, such as knocking off early to spend time with family.
- Training yourself in becoming more patient.
- Keeping workers updated on the business, industry, vaccine policies and other crucial issues.
4. Consistently discuss work targets.
Employees crave clarity. This is especially true for working parents, who don’t need any ambiguity on top of already unpredictable, fluid schedules that can shift at a moment’s notice.
Help them home in on key priorities, and frequently check in to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
5. Reset communication expectations.
It’s fine to establish consistent blocks of time for frequent and open communication — even if it’s just an hour or two per day. However, set realistic expectations here.
In other words, prepare for the unexpected. Sometimes life happens (at the worst possible time). So, don’t fret about cancelling meetings or postponing check-ins. Consistent communication is important, but err on the side of patience and understanding with working parents.
6. Give employees access to care.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a family member nearby or to afford exorbitant babysitting or daycare costs.
If it’s within your means, help your employees resolve their childcare issues throughout the year. You could provide them home care options through Care or Flexable. Even if you don’t foot the whole bill, you could help defray some of the costs. Or, you could provide a generous leave policy until employees get childcare sorted out.
7. Keep camaraderie alive.
Remote work is wonderful, but many are struggling with loneliness and lack of connectivity. This certainly goes for working parents, many of whom are so busy juggling that they’ve completely neglected their social health and well-being during the pandemic.
Companies should be mindful of this issue and should take strides to help colleagues connect in meaningful ways.
You could schedule (optional) weekly check-ins such as a short Zoom coffee break or other similar activity. Whatever you do, provide outlets where employees can let off steam and connect with each other in fun ways.
8. Make it easier for employees to clock out.
Another drawback of remote work is that many of us are finding it difficult to “switch off.”
Frequently remind your employees that it’s OK (and expected) to clock out at a decent hour every day. Encourage your team to set healthy boundaries, such as not working past a certain hour. Most importantly, set a good example by getting offline yourself. Resist the urge to send emails at 2 a.m., and set that Slack status to “unavailable.”
9. Think long-term.
Company leaders must come to grips with the notion that we might not ever go back to the old way of doing things.
- Virtual meetings are here to stay. Find the tools that you’re comfortable using, and step-up your remote meeting etiquette.
- Flexible schedules will also become the norm. Experiment with four-day workweeks, and just generally be more accommodating.
- Be strategic about face-to-face work. Nothing beats in-person interactions. Consider ways to get your colleagues more face-time with each, while still ensuring safety for your COVID-cautious team members.
Whatever approaches or policies you adopt, keep your working parents top-of-mind. They’re still under enormous strain and certainly deserve all the support, consideration and care you can muster.