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The World is Working from Home, But Parents are Living at Work – How Companies Can Support Working Parents

A mother of 7 shares her thoughts

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Recently, Florida State University announced that employees would no longer be able to take care of their children while working from home. Wait, excuse me?! As a proud 7th generation Floridian I’m well aware that a lot of weird stuff goes down in Florida, but I took a legitimate double take when I saw that headline. And probably in a non-pandemic world where schools and daycare centers were open and operating safely, this wouldn’t have made national headlines. But we’re living in 2020, a world where COVID-19 is disrupting life as we knew it, and childcare–already a juggle for working parents–has become 10x harder. 

After much backlash, FSU reversed its stance saying that their policy allows for parents to care for children while working from home, spotlighting an important conversation around what the rest of 2020 looks like for working parents. These days, we’re not as much working from home as we are living at work. At Chatbooks, the photo book company I founded with a mission to strengthen families, we rapidly changed how we do business as schools and daycares closed and we were urged to work from home. This required us to revisit some of our cultural norms and find new ways to support our team, many of whom have young children. Since we started Chatbooks six years ago, our customer support team has always worked from home while taking care of kids. And while we expected our full-time HQ team members to have childcare, parents were always welcome to bring their kids to work in our “kids space” in the office if necessary, or work from home on snow days or when their kids were sick, etc.

But these are extremely unusual times and we’ve had to creatively change our policies and culture to allow parents to combine work and childcare in new ways. FSU, and all companies, should do the same! Why? Well, it feels good to do the right thing for our team, AND it’s good for the business. New research shows that parents are 2% less productive while working from home and taking care of children—but employees who are working from home without taking care of children are actually 3% less productive! That rings true as our team of 140 have been working at home with our collective 250+ kids. We’ve actually seen a surge in productivity.  Helping employees during this time also creates a more inclusive and empathetic culture and leads to more loyal employees. 

Here’s how we’re creating a culture that lets parents work: 

Asynchronous Communication: When it works, we’re moving to asynchronous communication. Some things should be a meeting, or a quick phone call. But sometimes material can be reviewed and decided on without requiring everyone to be in the same place on video at the same time. This helps parents fit more of their work into times when it’s best for them, whether that’s early in the morning or during naptime. As a part of this initiative, we have also specifically designated Wednesdays as a “meeting-free” day, and shortened the “meeting hours” throughout the whole week.

Enhanced emphasis on OKRs: OKRs, or the Objective and Key Results method of communicating and measuring priorities and progress,is a tool for getting everyone on the same page about what needs to happen. During the pandemic, our leadership team has made an intentional effort to create clear, quarter-by-quarter OKRs, for the company and for each team, that allow us to focus on the work and projects that best move the company forward right now—and let other projects sit for later. The increased clarity about what’s most important right now also means fewer discussions about what we should do, or what the priorities should be. This lets people work slightly fewer, better-focused hours while still making progress towards the metrics that grow the business. 

Norming that WFH Parent Life: This starts with what Nate, my husband and co-founder, and I do and continues all throughout the company. We are trying to homeschool and take care of our 3 out of 7 kids who are still at home (16, 14, and 11), and my youngest especially seems to have a million questions about his homeschool day. Nate and I don’t hide that we’re helping the kids during the day, and all of our leaders try to normalize this behavior. One director who is taking care of a 9 month old will let her crawl around in the background during zoom calls—it’s the cutest! And I was on a video call today where 3 parents had kids on their laps… all just a normal part of 2020 life.

Expensing lunch: We’re trying to take more off employees’ plates in ways big and small. A small perk that’s made a big difference is having employees expense weekly lunches for themselves and their families. This means less time making meals and more time to take a break and support a local business in the process. There are few things that keep my kids out of my hair better than a promise of their favorite tacos after mom works for another hour. 

Internal support groups built by and for working moms: We love a good Slack channel, and our MomForce slack has become a strong homebase for parents in our company looking for support and tips throughout the day. Whether it’s ideas for keeping babies from crawling on keyboards or tips about how to keep your kids accountable for taking care of the dog they begged for, they’ve got each other’s back. 

I’m looking forward to having my kids back in school and getting back to “normal.” But until schools and daycares are all open and safe, Chatbooks and all companies should support parents who are trying to work and take care of their families. I truly believe that we will be better off on the other side of this, as we evaluate what is most important to us. As for Chatbooks, we are doubling down on our mission to strengthen families and I know that will not only help us navigate through these uncertain times, but will also engender fierce loyalty from our team and ultimately strengthen our bottom line. 

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