Each stage of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented its own unique set of challenges. From navigating long lines and shortages at grocery stores during the early days of lockdowns to maintaining stocks of personal protective equipment such as masks, people have been presented with one obstacle after another.
Now, as we acclimate to the “new normal for now,” parents are presented with what may be the hardest Rubik’s Cube of them all: Start the school year as a full-time employee and de facto full-time home educator — with no end to many school lockdowns in sight.
As a result, employees with children will have to alter their routines to accommodate school plans, and they need clarity from their employers before creating a roadmap for juggling careers and children.
These challenges present a once-in-a-generation opportunity for HR leaders. Navigating the needs of employees, the expectations of leadership, and the requirements of the organization is a monumentally important task that requires creativity and agility. Below are a few strategies to consider, even if not all of them are relevant to your organization.
Flexibility Is Your Friend
COVID-19 demonstrated that many organizations were able to successfully transition to near-100% remote work models quickly. At my company, we switched more than 3,000 employees to remote setups within 16 days, an objectively astounding feat that was no doubt mirrored by many other companies across the world.
Much can be learned from this success, including this: Organizations can accomplish more than they thought capable if they are determined to stay flexible.
Applying that mindset to other problems, like school closures, can yield equally impressive results. For example, companies could empower managers to adjust “business hours” and stagger shifts for employees. This would enable parents to be home and available to their children during the hours when they need supervision and instruction.
Create New Employee Resource Groups
ERGs are one of the most useful tools to companies during this pandemic. Comprising workers who belong to a specific demographic or interest group, they are a way for employees with different needs to find support, share ideas, and pass along concerns and potential solutions to leadership.
Consider creating an ERG for parents of young children — and perhaps another one for teens — and encourage them to meet monthly about telework best practices, virtual schooling tips, and related topics. Build channels of communication into the structure so that creative ideas are passed along to decision-makers.
Host a Back-to-School Webinar
If your company regularly hosts webinars, now might be the time to insert a presentation about benefits that could alleviate stress for parents. It’s an opportune time for parents to know if their company’s employee assistance program (EAP) provides consultations with a work-life expert who can provide referrals to academic resources, childcare, tutors, or parenting advice. EAPs may also offer services like free financial sessions, confidential assistance for mental health concerns, or complimentary legal services.
Review Wellness Offerings
There is a strong correlation between health and productivity of employees. A study from PwC found that when corporate wellbeing practices merge with individual dedication to healthy behavior, there’s a positive impact on individuals, teams and client relationships.
With COVID-19, the impact on employee health is potentially substantial, from the virus itself to mental health challenges and the “COVID-19” weight gain that could reverse progress many companies had made toward a healthier workplace.
If your company isn’t already active, expand access to mental and physical support resources so all employees — not just parents — remember to care for their own wellbeing. For instance, we’ve seen success at Deluxe in providing virtual yoga instruction, a virtual 5K run, and mini wellness talks about coping mechanisms.
Integrate Family-Friendly Virtual Events
If your company has hosted a virtual coffee break or happy hour to increase internal connection among coworkers, why not encourage teams to make events that are family-friendly? This can include adding a virtual “meet the family” gathering to the calendar or Halloween costume contest, to name a few ideas.
Cultivate Mini Brand Ambassadors
With work and home lives merging more than ever, take the opportunity to extend your brand by preparing future ambassadors. If you have company swag left over from that cancelled spring conference, send it to your teammates so their children/families can be decked out with company merchandise like t-shirts, backpacks, pencils and more.
Evaluate How to Increase Connectivity
Now is the time to bring fresh ideas to executive leadership, even if it involves an upfront investment. For example, a one-time grant to help households upgrade technology might be an effective use of resources. From improving in-house WiFi speed to investing in a new laptop or headset, making it easier for parents to work from home will help alleviate the school stress, too.
The HR team has never been more crucial to a successful organization than it is today. If the ideas above are not a fit for your company, you could put together a task force with representatives across departments to brainstorm and recommend modifications that best support parents and their families.
It’s ultimately important to create a strategy with inventive tactics that can positively impact the quality of your associates’ everyday lives during a historically stressful time.