Recent weeks have seen many organisations embrace remote work to continue operating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this is causing challenges for all employees, it’s a particularly challenging time for working parents.
“Social distancing guidelines have blurred the lines between home and work for many of us. With kids at home, parents are being faced with the challenge of looking after children while working - which can feel like two full time jobs!” says Shazia Juma-Ross, CEO of children’s activities platform Skills and Thrills. “It’s also a challenge for employers, as it’s their responsibility to ensure staff have the tools they need to work efficiently.”
For businesses wondering what they can do to help, Shazia has shared her tips on how to support employees who are now working through COVID-19 with children.
Be super flexible
Working parents require flexibility on a normal day but coronavirus closures have now made it even more essential. Everyone has a different situation at home, so one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Give employees the flexibility to schedule their work day to suit what they need to do with the kids. For instance, some parents split their workdays so one can work early in the morning while the other takes the afternoon shift. Others may prefer to block out times in the day to manage childcare, and some might need to have days without meetings. Give parents the freedom to work the hours that suit them best and it will ease the pressure while also helping them work optimally.
Provide child minding options
School and child care closures have left parents with little or no options for caring for their kids. With this in mind, employers can support staff with kids by subsidising childcare or even providing at-home online interactive activities for employees’ kids. Skills and Thrills has introduced bespoke at-home kids activity programs that many corporates are already taking advantage of to keep kids busy and help parents focus on their work. The programs are live streamed with tutors and coaches who run each workshop and interact with the kids at home. The activities are all skills-based, fun and engaging, and range from science workshops to fitness to coding. The programs can be tailored to suit each business and include whole day camps so parents can get a full day’s work done or half days to give them some clear focus time.
Keep communications open
The best way for employers to know what working parents need is simply to ask. So take the time to talk to them and find out about their individual situation. Be open about the realities and difficulties of taking care of kids while working, and use it as an opportunity to discuss workloads. By focusing on workers’ needs, you can ensure they are honest about their situation and their ability to complete tasks. Let them know that you are open and willing to chat through any concerns or issues and ensure that they know when you’re available and on which channels e.g. text, call, Slack or emails. It’s also important for working parents to have a forum to feel heard, so leverage workplace apps such as Facebook workplace or Yammer to connect staff who have kids and encourage them to communicate, so positive, informative and uplifting stories are being shared.
Focus on wellbeing
Finally, it is more important than ever to lead with your heart, not just with your head. So put your people first, and encourage them to focus on their well-being as well as their children’s. Working parents could be dealing with a combination of issues, from experiencing coronavirus symptoms, caring with kids who are scared and confused, to feeling anxious themselves. Many businesses already offer counselling - if your company does, share the details for anyone who wants to take advantage of the service. Remind employees to take breaks, stay hydrated and go for walks during the day, and consider sharing useful apps, podcasts and other programs on mindfulness and meditation. Don’t forget about the kids either - Headspace offers meditation for kids, and there are also live streamed mindfulness classes online from Life Skills that children can complete at home.
Help them work from home
Not everyone has a home office, so employers should provide practical help to aid parents with the working from home environment. This could be as simple as letting staff take home their monitors, stand-up desks and chairs to help with posture. Some companies are also providing staff with a budget to improve their working environment at home. This can be spent on anything they need, from desks, to cushions or even things to keep the kids amused while they work.
Shazia Juma-Ross is the Co-founder and CEO of Skills and Thrills and former Global COO of Macquarie Capital. Skills and Thrills provides high-quality skills-based kids activities at the workplace over school holidays and a leading online marketplace connecting kids activities with parents. Visit www.skillsandthrills.com.au to learn more.