Parents now are working at home in significant numbers, juggling Zoom calls with overseeing their children’s distance learning. Most offices remain closed, but for those that have opened, many employees struggle to return, having children who are now at home some, or all, of the time. A recent study from the American Psychological Association reveals the significant stress parents are under.
“The disruptions of the lives of children and teens under the age of 18 caused by COVID-19 may be having a profound effect on the stress level of American parents. More than 7 in 10 say managing distance/online learning for their children is a significant source of stress (71 percent),” according to the study’s findings.
With that in mind, what can companies do to offset some of that stress? For companies with the means to do so, and a component of the workforce that needs or could benefit from in-person work, an on-site daycare could be a worthwhile investment. Another option is for your company to pool resources with a group of other companies in your area to provide daycare resources.
Just as parents carpool to get children to afterschool activities, parents at your company could pool the resources of their time to take turns managing the distance learning of older children. For teens who do not necessarily need close supervision, the company could create a page on its intranet in which parents have children input their assignments and homework for the coming week. Then parents at the company could take turns monitoring virtually that the work gets done. The way it would work is at appointed times, the kids would log into a Zoom call in which the parent in charge of that time slot would look up the information input on the online sheet about each child’s assignments, and check that the child was doing the work and didn’t need extra help getting it done. The individual parents would have to follow up with their own child at the end of the day, but at least parents would have time during the day when they could focus solely on their work knowing that their child was not totally unsupervised, and that completion of their work was being overseen. The online document in which kids and parents could input the schoolwork the child is responsible for completing could help keep families organized and on-task.
An online support or Sharing Challenges & Solutions group for pandemic parents also could be helpful. It could be a relief to hear stories from colleagues with kids on the particular challenges of this time—of trying your best to focus on meetings and work deadlines, while also having children, and sometimes a spouse, nearby causing distractions. The online group could be facilitated by a person at your company, or tapped from outside, who has a psychology background in helping people manage stress. It could be organized so that, in addition to a freeform complaining and funny anecdotes portion, the facilitator would have participants each share a recent challenge and the solution or coping mechanism they developed to deal with it. The facilitator then could offer his or her own tips for handling the challenge shared.
Flexibility in work schedules is more important than ever. It’s crucial for companies to offer employees the ability to put in their work hours however they can, even if it means sometimes taking a big break in the middle of the day to attend to children and run errands, and then pick up their work again in the evenings or the early morning hours of the following day.
Zoom meetings have become a star of the pandemic, and certainly they are a great for keeping in touch with colleagues, but are so many necessary? Video meetings are more demanding than phone-only meetings, requiring participants to worry about how they and their home “studios” look. With a camera trained on you, they also require undivided attention. Sometimes that undivided attention is essential, such as when discussing plans in which each employee will be given specific assignments and deadlines. Those types of calls, with actionable, instruction-heavy information, require an employee’s whole attention. But many other meetings do not. The meetings in which the manager wants to give employees a heads-up about a change to the seating plan at the office, wants to share a few recent stories from customers, or a few still-pie-in-the-sky ideas are meetings employees could listen to on speaker phone while responding to e-mails and getting other work done.
With parents—and all employees—stretched thin, it’s important to make every assignment count. Now more than ever, managers should find ways to streamline employees’ workflow, and help them develop hacks to get assignments done quickly and effectively. The goal is for employees to think of their employer and work family as a resource during this time rather than as an additional problem.
Is your company finding ways to help parents, caregivers, and other employees during this stressful time? What help are you providing to keep employees productive and sane as we continue to muddle through the pandemic?