With the news that schools may be closed for the rest of the year, we know that parents and caregivers are feeling anxious and unsure how they’ll balance their professional and personal responsibilities. At the same time, many company leaders and HR teams are wondering how they can best support their employees who need flexibility while keeping projects generally on track.
This is not a typical work-from-home situation where caretakers can make proactive adjustments to ensure coverage during work hours, as many resources are not available or closed. Approach the situation with empathy and put yourself in your employee’s shoes to understand their anxiety and their limited options. You will need to be creative and flexible to support parents working from home with their children or employees needing to check in on or help high-risk family members.
We’ve gathered our top tips for HR, company leadership, and managers as they think about how to set and share expectations during these uncertain times.
Read the blog: How to Make Working Remotely Work for You
Encourage a conversation with managers
Let your employees know that you understand that this is not a typical situation and you want to help ensure they have flexibility to handle their other responsibilities during work hours. Encourage them to continuously communicate with their managers about what their situation looks like throughout this time period. We suggest that caregivers create transparent calendar blocks/Slack away messages so team members are aware of their accessibility ie. 1 hour block for “3rd Grade Math” or 30 min for “Putting the baby down for a nap.” Aside from transparency, this allows managers to understand their team’s schedule and adjust deadlines, make better plans as to who should work together, and plan team meetings for when everyone is available. It also allows managers to be clear with impacted staff members what work they should prioritize during their potentially limited work hours.
Set shared expectations
Set the tone that all staff members should be understanding of the difficult situation caregivers are in. Leadership and managers should explicitly state their support of impacted employees and note that while you want to get as much done as possible you know it’s not “business as usual” right now. Acknowledge the difficulty and stress your employees may be facing, and normalize the fact that there might be a child interrupting or partner on the phone in the same room (Mute button for the win on Zoom and Hangouts!).
Create a Slack channel or email group for parents and caregivers
Create a forum where impacted employees can exchange information on what's working for them, share resources, and support each other. You want your employees to be able to lean on each other during hard times so create as many forums for this as possible. Also ask them what they want - they probably have the best ideas of what would be useful.
Allow for shift work or flexible hours when possible
It’s just not realistic to think that caregivers are going to be able to work completely normal hours. Instead leaders should focus on setting up schedules that allow impacted employees to focus, as that’s the key to productivity and getting good work done. Alternate schedules can include: early morning starts that end in the afternoon, splitting the day between early morning and then again after bedtime, doing block scheduling where they alternate full or half work days with their partner (if this is possible), and changing their work week to include weekends as a swap for certain weekdays.
Many caregivers simply do not have good options right now so as an employer you should try to be as flexible as you can. Frequently evaluate priorities and adjust timelines to fit the capacity of your team. Be realistic about what impacted caregivers can get done - even if someone can work 40 hours while caring for someone else, they’ll likely burn out quickly. If you are a company that cares more about what gets done than what hours are worked, it’s to your benefit to be flexible wherever you can be. If you proactively help certain staff members reduce their hours or switch their schedule around you’re more likely to get the most from them. It’s also a great opportunity to look to other team members who may have fewer responsibilities and are looking to take on something new or really flex in a developmental area.
The situation surrounding COVID-19 is developing and changing quickly; we advise everyone to stay informed, stay flexible and stay empathetic. You can find more resources on how to support parents and anyone working remotely, as well as help regarding the creation of remote work policies and more here.
Written by Mallory Mazer