- Only 48% of employees feel well-prepared to work during COVID-19 crisis
- Leaders can practice flexibility to support parents working from home
- How leaders navigate this crisis may affect long-term employee engagement
Parenting is tough work. Parenting a child who is not leaving the home for regular activities like school, sports or social gatherings is particularly challenging.
Parenting a child while participating in an important client videoconference? That is next-level hard -- and leaders need to help their employees figure it out, along with all the other challenges associated with the current COVID-19 crisis. Gallup research shows that at the moment, just 48% of U.S. employees say they feel well-prepared to do their job. Leaders must find ways to boost that number -- especially for employees who find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly working and parenting simultaneously.
How you manage and support these working parents -- many of whom are acting as teachers as well -- over the coming days, weeks and potentially months may determine their productivity, engagement and retention with your organization for the long haul. And more importantly, when this crisis passes, your people will remember how their leaders responded at a time when they needed you the most.
If your organization prides itself on having a flexible work culture, prove it.
In 2016, 43% of U.S. employees said they work remotely at least some of the time. Over the past decade, businesses and organizations around the world have adopted buzzwords to define their flexible work cultures, striving to advertise the perfect work-life balance for prospective new hires. If this describes your organization, it's time your employees not only hear about but also feel and believe the policies and practices of your flexible work culture.
1. Relax -- rather than change -- your policies.
Understand that for the time being, there may be a baby crying in the background. There might be late starts or early stops to a workday, and you'll probably see children racing through the background of a videoconference. For many who typically work remotely, these occurrences would probably seem embarrassing or unprofessional. Given the current circumstances, though, all of this may be unavoidable. Embrace it. Roll with it. Do your best to absolve your employees of any discomfort about the current "normal."
2. Coach employees to maximize their productivity with flexible hours.
It might be easiest to dedicate focused time early in the morning, before children are awake. Similarly, naptime might be the golden hour for an important conference call. Turning back to a project at 8:00 p.m. once dinner and baths are complete might facilitate getting work out the door. Ask your employees for rough schedules or timelines, knowing they'll do their best to honor them.
3. Make meetings shorter.
When people are working from home, there's a need for them to feel more connected -- to have more opportunities to gather and think through problems and solutions, and to flex their videoconference muscles. This is great in theory, but tough for a parent working from home.
Keeping a child quietly occupied for an hour is no small task. If possible, do your best to keep meetings to 30 minutes. Challenge yourself and your team to keep each meeting short and on point, and adjourn early whenever possible. Others can stay on and fill the time if they wish. But getting to the point and ending early gives parents the valuable time they need to take care of children and keep it all in balance.
4. Move close of business (COB) to open of business (OOB).
Deadlines are typically set to finish on a certain day for a reason. There's a next step in the process or a final deliverable to hand over. If you typically ask for things to be completed by COB, or 5:00 p.m., consider moving due dates to OOB on the following day, or 8:00 a.m. This allows parents flexibility to get things done later in the evening or early in the morning, when they might have more time and attention to give.
Many working parents are not able to do their jobs remotely. For those who can, they are learning a new kind of balancing act that was once reserved for the occasional snow or sick day -- trying to get work done with a child at home.
Leaders and managers can join forces to help these parents leverage their survival skills during this time. In fact, they need to do so to keep workers productive and engaged. Nailing this requires a strong commitment to new ways of doing things, clear and individualized expectations, consistent communication, and a heavy dose of understanding and compassion.