As COVID-19 restrictions slowly start to ease in Massachusetts, employers may be feeling a bit of relief that business is starting to get back to “normal”, even if “normal” involves face masks, rotating office staff, and lots of telecommuting. But, working parents of young children are looking ahead to the long days of summer and the upcoming school year with growing anxiety as the early reports indicate that COVID-19 will disrupt our kids’ routines for months to come.
Unless families have one dedicated parent who can focus solely on the children while the other works, this situation is going to continue to cause a great deal of stress among many of your employees. And, smart companies will want to think now about how they will adapt to what will surely be an uncertain summer, fall, and–likely–winter.
How can you plan ahead for this? Here are a few key things to consider:
Be a parenting-friendly company
Ideally, you want your good employees to stick with your company for years and years. Their children will be young–and needy–for only a few of these years; support your working parents now, and you may keep these important professionals with you long after their kids have grown.
Recognize that parents with children at home are doing their very best during difficult times. But even the most well-behaved children can forget to keep their voices down when a parent is on a conference call. And families may find their bandwidth strained when employees and students have to log into Zoom calls at the same time.
And single parents will have even more challenges if they cannot share the childcare load with another adult or find a safe daycare option. If your office space is open, there may be times when lack of childcare prohibits them coming into the office alone. While no one is expecting places of business to become de facto daycare centers, smart companies will help their valued employees know of any local back-up childcare options, or they will set up a conference room in which parents can occasionally work with their children present.
Be a welcoming environment for working parents, and you may retain their expertise, skills, and respect long after COVID-19 is (hopefully) in the history books.
Make sure your telecommuting systems are up to speed
Many employees have been telecommuting for at least a couple of months by now, so it is a good time to find out how things have been going for them. Can everyone access the information they need to do their jobs from home? Are there areas that could be improved?
Make sure your employees have dedicated computer equipment that they do not need to share with their kids on school days. Consider offering a stipend for equipment, including microphones and headsets so that virtual meetings can be heard and seen by all, and the occasional “child noise” in the background is minimized. Encourage your employees to download a scanning app onto their phone to allow them to share printed documents easily.
Identify potential trouble spots now, during the relative quiet of summer, and these smaller issues will not become larger ones once fall begins.
Make the office a safe space to work
Perhaps your employees will be working part time from home, and part time in the office. Even if COVID-19 numbers continue to decline, recognize that this period has been traumatic and worrisome for many people. Do everything you can to insure your employees that you are looking out for their health and want to keep their families safe.
Make sure your workspace is sanitized frequently. Provide disposable masks for employees who may occasionally forget theirs at home. Consider investing in an updated air filtration system for your offices or building. Have cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer available and install clear dividers wherever your employees may have to come in close contact with the public.
Flexibility is key
Yes, you will want your employees to be available during the traditional workday as much as possible but also allow them to snatch hours of work outside of normal business hours. The employee that works from 5am to 9am, is not “slacking off” to focus on the children mid-day; they are simply reallocating their time. Go over deliverables and due dates with your employee and then let them manage their time as they complete the work.
On the flip side, if you are the one who prefers to answer emails at 3am or likes to send out status reports on Sunday mornings, make sure your employees know that they should not feel compelled to respond to every email or request in real time. Just because some employers may prefer to work at odd hours, does not mean everyone needs to be on call 24/7 (unless this is the norm for your industry!)
You may also consider giving some trusted employees access to your company building outside of regular office hours, in case they want to go in to do paperwork or other projects that cannot be completed at home.
If COVID-19 has taught business owners anything, it is the need to be ready to adapt quickly to a changing work environment in order to safeguard employees and customers or clients. Recognizing now that this is not “over” but may continue into 2021 can help you prepare and make your workplace, both physical and virtual, a welcoming environment for all.
For more information, read Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 from OSHA.
Need temporary or permanent help for your company? Contact South Shore Staffing at any time.