How companies should support working parents while working remotely

While some companies have been using the practice of working remotely before the coronavirus pandemic forced them to do so, the concept was new to many parents, and what most people weren’t used to was having their children home as they were on a video call with their CEO. What surveys have found is that working from home is hard for parents whose children are also at home with them, so organizations should consider their part in helping working parents as coronavirus continues to change how we work, educate, and connect.

Ladders spoke to Kenji Kuramoto, CEO of Acuity, to find out different actions organizations can take to help parents as they continue to work remotely.

Take another look at benefits

Employee benefits don’t have to stick to the traditional benefits of PTO and medical benefits. Instead, companies can take a look at what their employees actually need, and what would be useful to them.

That is exactly what Acuity CEO Kenji Kuramoto has done for his team of 90 employees, many of whom are parents. The team worked remotely even before coronavirus-related shutdowns affected offices around the country, but that doesn’t mean that the pandemic has left the team unaffected.

With online learning, parents may have had to share their workspace with their children for the very first time, which could be distracting and even stressful.

As the school year came to a close last month, many children found themselves at home with limited options for keeping themselves busy. Most kids had their summer camps canceled, which leaves it up to parents to find something to occupy their time. Through conversations with parents, in Slack channels designated for these types of discussions, Kuramoto learned that this was a stressful situation for many of his employees.

In reaction to learning about this pain point, Kuramoto spoke to Anna Birch, who runs Adventure Links, a summer camp program in Clifton, Virginia. This summer, Adventure Links is doing something a bit different and hosting summer camp online through TheCampCloud.

After learning about TheCampCloud, Kuramoto started to wonder if this was a benefit he could provide to his employees with children. After strategizing with the team at TheCampCloud, Acuity was able to cover a large part of the cost for parents who wanted to enroll their children in a camp program.

“The feedback has been very, very strong and positive,” Kuramoto said of TheCampCloud.

Ask employees what’s most difficult for them

A recent Gallup coronavirus tracking survey of more than 1,200 parents revealed that a majority (56%) of parents thought that navigating online learning was difficult for their families, including 16% of parents who said it was “very difficult.”

Many parents don’t yet know if their children will be back in school in the fall or if they will once again be dealing with remote learning.

While it is still early to make any major decisions, companies should begin considering how the result of schooling in the fall will impact their business and their individual employees.

“We have been talking internally from a leadership perspective about, we should probably prepare for team members to be a bit more distracted because it is much more likely that the kids are going to be home and they’re going to be working there at home,” Kuramoto said. “So what does that mean for us? What things can we provide? We have started having those discussions about, how do we find ways to support the parents?”

While Kuramoto’s team has not implemented any changes yet, they have had a few ideas about ways in which they will be able to support parents in the fall.

One measure the company is considering is restructuring meetings to fit better around the school day of employees’ children. While not many know what the school schedule will look like, once that information is available, it may be worth looking into better times for meetings for those with children going through schooling.

Though children will have teachers to guide them with instruction, many parents find that a large burden of remote learning falls on them, which can be especially difficult for working parents.

“Our sense as parents is that we’re probably going to have to get more involved in the way that school works for the kids,” Kuramoto said.

So another idea is, similar to providing the TheCampCloud benefit, can Acuity provide extra help for children who are doing remote learning? Kuramoto brought up the possibility of offering access to extra tutoring or similar resources.

On the topic of children working at home, one thing to think about is internet access. You certainly don’t want an employee struggling to connect to the internet because their children are also at home learning remotely. With four people attending Zoom meetings instead of one, the internet connection might suffer. As the employer, could you help pay for enhanced internet connectivity?

“Things around those lines are fairly simple, but we’re still trying to determine what is going to be meaningful and what isn’t,” Kuramoto said.

While this next example does not relate to the coronavirus pandemic, it shows the power of simply asking employees what is causing them stress. At Acuity, they have parts of the year that are busier than others, and one busy part of the year happens to be around the holidays. When the organization asked what was stressing employees out, aside from their actual work, many noted that they felt they didn’t have enough time to get their house in order to be able to have family over to celebrate the holidays. With that knowledge, Acuity offered a company benefit in which employees could hire someone to clean their house before the holidays began.

“We found it very valuable in just asking,” Kuramoto said, explaining how the company discovers benefits that are actually useful to employees.

Why employers should focus on employees right now

“What we’re experiencing is how important it is to have an opportunity for people to work, and do fulfilling work, yet also to integrate really well with their personal life,” Kuramoto said. “We’ve found that the more we focus on that, the much higher retention we get in team members and the overall happiness of the team.”

With the uncertainty of what their children will be doing in the fall, parents should be able to take comfort in knowing that their employer will have their back no matter what.

“Nobody knows…it’s really weighing on parents right now,” Kuramoto said. “We are so dependent, reliant, and really grateful to have parents that we work with because they like our environment, but we’re going to need to find some ways to really provide some additional support once the school year rolls around…whatever it may look like. It starts with the dialogue, but it’s a relatively easy one to have, because it’s been top of mind for parents these days.”

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.