Working parents have always comprised a considerable part of the workforce and their struggles to balance work-life and home-life aren't really new. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit (and daycare and school closures impacted families everywhere) when the world truly seemed to notice. It was like a giant spotlight was placed directly on the challenges of all of these parents being stretched thin, trying to care for their now isolated kids while still being as present and productive as all of their non-parent peers.
As employers have become more and more accustomed to seeing working parents’ home lives - and their little ones! - on display in Zoom meetings and work calls, some of them are finally starting to recognize the need to do something meaningful to support their employees who are struggling to simultaneously work and care for kids at home.
Here are 15 thoughtful ideas you can consider as you work to be more empathetic and supportive to your employees who work from home with kids of any age:
- Offer additional paid leave. Outside of your obligations under FMLA, you might consider offering a specified number of family days to employees during the pandemic, which they can use for homeschool, daycare emergencies, or mental health days. Google and Facebook both began offering this perk early in the pandemic.
- Offer flex time or a ‘make-your-own-schedule’ standard. For jobs that can be done remotely - and even those that aren’t - employees’ productivity shouldn’t be measured by how many hours they spend doing something, but by whether they finish the task needing to be done. Therefore, let your employees know that “as long as you get your work done, you can do it however and whenever it makes the most sense for you."
- Consider “no-meeting blocks”. Skyscanner is currently encouraging its employees to step away from noon to 3 pm every day and spend time with their families, which is especially helpful for those working from home with kids. The Predictive Index also has 2-hour no-meeting blocks daily for their whole organization, to allow that needed flexibility and space for working parents (and all employees, really) in their calendar.
- Provide back-up childcare. Set up a custom perk stipend that covers your employees’ family-related costs such as a babysitter or overnight nanny. You could also achieve this by partnering with a caregiving provider such as Care.com to provide your employees with free premium membership and / or credits (for Care.com, they can use credits childcare or housekeeping services). Salesforce began offering this parental benefit to their employees in summer of 2020.
- Start an employee support group, giving employees who have kids at home the opportunity to meet, share ideas and resources with one another, and talk about their challenges and successes during COVID-19. A great way to manage it is through a dedicated parents Slack channel - this is how Transfix does it with their channel #Transfixparents.
- Normalize children in Zoom meetings. Easy and completely free, allowing children to say hello in Zoom meetings without awkwardness can take the pressure off of parents to participate as if there aren't children at home when there are. This unrealistic expectation has likely led to lots of undue stress among parent workers during COVID-19.
- Send food or offer a meal stipend or food allowance. This can help working parents get meals to their families while they're busy working or help them put their feet up and enjoy their families after hours without having to cook and clean up the mess. There's also the option to subsidize food costs in other ways such as by offering your employees a DashPass subscription, which gives access to DoorDash food delivery without delivery fees.
- Send home crafts and activity kits for children. This can give kids something productive and educational to do, while offering parents a little time to themselves in the evening to rest and recharge. There are even subscription boxes for kids that turns activities into more than a one-time thing: Kiwi Co. / Little Passports / Cratejoy / We Craft / Bitsbox / Kids Curated Books / Green Kids Crafts / Radish
- Offer and encourage participation in the Employee Assistance Program, both for employees and their children, who may be feeling the impact of COVID-19.
- Cover family costs (beyond childcare). Since not every working parent is going to need or use a babysitter or nanny, consider a temporary or recurring flexible perk stipend for child and family-related costs that aren’t just traditional childcare. You’d be surprised how grateful working parents would be to get help with expenses such as setting up remote learning stations, Disney+ memberships, books, or even just the treat of ordering in once in a while to take a break from cooking (like the company Button is offering their employees).
- Ask your employees about family. Encouraging your managers to ask their employees how their children are doing; how distance learning is going; how they're managing their responsibilities at work and at home can help contribute to an authentically family-friendly work environment during and after COVID-19.
- Survey your employees to get more insight into ways you can be supportive. Remember that the challenges that parents working at home with children are experiencing might ebb and flow as the circumstances surrounding the pandemic change. For example, at one period of time parents may have been more impacted by the low supply of diapers, wipes, or toilet paper in their local stores, while at other stages in the pandemic, daycare and school closures or family health may have taken priority. You can easily create free surveys with Google Forms or Typeform.
- Provide resources for online tutoring and academic support. For parents of school-aged children, offering discounted or free support services for their children’s learning can be hugely helpful. This can produce dramatic relief for parents and promote success for children, reducing stress and improving well-being for your workers.
- Offer free virtual visits. Many employers have partnered with virtual clinics to offer free virtual visits to employees and their families. This can help them get quick access to the treatment they need without having to miss an entire day of work or eLearning, give them peace of mind when COVID symptoms arise, and demonstrate the organization's investment in their health and well-being.
- Consider hosting kid-friendly virtual events. Shipstation has offered magic shows, virtual lunches, and webinars to help out their employees who are working from home with kids of all ages.
During and beyond the pandemic, employers who are able to successfully recognize the varied needs of employees and their truly dynamic home lives - and actually offer more flexible and tangible support for working parents trying to juggle so much - are the ones who’ll be able to foster better employee engagement (and attract great talent as well!). We hope you found this list helpful!