How to help employees with childcare responsibilities to work from home

30 March 2020

The business community across the globe is facing an unprecedented situation. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that – for those able to – working from home has now become the new ‘norm’ in order to slow the spread of the disease. In fact, earlier this month, global corporations, from Google, Microsoft and Twitter to Hitachi, Apple and Amazon enforced mandatory working from home in order to safeguard their employees and broader network.

There is a much wider impact, though. Working from home can bring a myriad of unique challenges, especially for those with childcare responsibilities due to the knock-on effect of school closures, illnesses or being a primary carer. Covid-19 is disrupting the ‘traditional’ approach to business, but we can come together to ensure that those individuals with caring responsibilities are able to work efficiently.

Communication is key

It can’t be emphasised enough; communication is of paramount importance. Whether in the office or working from a remote location, communicating with your employer and colleagues is key. Adding children into this can prove to be difficult, however. Informing your work team that you are in a position of care, outlining areas where you are struggling with work and agreeing a schedule and timings for work will aid working from home.

For those living in a two-parent household, it is important to establish workloads and understand key priorities within your working schedules in order to be able to plan efficiently and maximise your time. Adopting a clear stream of two-way communication may seem obvious but setting aside time for each parent to take on childcare will allow the other to have time to focus and concentrate on the demands of their role.

Communicating involves the good and the bad. It is important that employees are able to reach out to colleagues – and senior members of the team too – in order to communicate honestly and seek support from the network of people near to them.

Maintain routines

It is important to remember that both adults and children thrive from having a structured routine. Giving your employees the flexibility to be able to create a schedule that works for them – and around the needs of their children – is key to unlocking productivity. There is no value in demanding the rigidity of a traditional 9-5 day. It simple doesn’t work. Creating a routine for your family – and sticking to this each day – will be essential.

As a business leader, however, you can schedule structured daily check-ins to find out how your employees are doing, what projects they are focusing on and to offer additional support or guidance if this is required. Especially important when working remotely is the human element that is missed from not being in a bustling office environment. These daily check-ins may be a much-needed source of contact for your employees, so making good use of this time is key.

As part of maintaining a structured routine, employees should be reminded of the importance of looking after yourself, the individual, too. Taking regular breaks is a good way to do this throughout the day, ensuring the children in your care are also engaged. Being focused with your time is also of paramount importance. Think about what works well for you throughout your day.  Don’t forget the importance of planning your schedule after your working hours have been completed, too, especially when working from home for a lengthy period of time.

Utilise advances in technology

In order for their employees to work remotely in a productive manner, businesses will need to call on the range of digital tools available to them. From software such as Microsoft Teams to the video capabilities of Zoom, using these tools will enable clear communication and accessibility to all employees within the business. Importantly, working remotely works best when seamlessly aligned with collaborative working. Making use of technology, through Google Drive, sharing files through Microsoft Teams or a video conference call makes all the difference.

This unique situation also poses an opportunity for parents and carers to be creative with the ways in which they use technology. For those with childcare responsibilities, it is a good idea to try out the tools available to you and work out what aligns best with your daily routine. It may be that you can even use these tools to supplement your child’s home learning schedule, or as an engaging tool away from their educational materials (ideally without them invading your video conferences!).

There’s no doubt that a period of isolation such as that caused by Covid-19 can have an impact on productivity and engagement but utilising the capabilities of technology will ensure the resilience of your workforce for the duration.