Work & Family

Working From Home With Kids: 5 Action Steps For Leaders, Managers, and Employees

By: Mary Beth Ferrante

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

The email that came from my husband’s leadership was exactly what every parent needs right now, recognition that we are in “uncharted territory…that our responsibility to our families and health far outweigh our responsibilities at work…and that ultimately we will get through this together.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.  

As the co-founder of WRK/360, I had already been connecting with two other founders, Amy Henderson of Tendlab and Lori Mihalich-Levin of Mindful Return. Given our line of work and experience partnering with hundreds of companies to improve the experience of working parents prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we knew one thing is certain – so much of that experience lies with winning the boss lottery. Even within the exact same organization, two employees will have vastly different experiences juggling work and kids based on the support or lack thereof from their manager. Given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis, leaders’ actions become even more critical for working parents.

Yet we also know first-hand, that caregivers, the moms and dads, on your teams are actually the ones who are especially skilled at navigating through the challenges we are all facing today.

In times of transition and uncertainty (this situation is definitely both of those), the key to success for parents working from home with kids is open, ongoing, constructive communication. Therefore our three companies, Tendlab, Mindful Return and WRK/360 created this quick guide and action plan to provide company leaders, mid-level managers and employees the best practices for facilitating open and constructive conversations!

Employer leadership:

Clear and proactive messages should come from top level, ideally C-Suite executives who are coordinated across all senior leaders and HR. This is especially important given recent research indicates that employees believe their employer is the most credible source for COVID-19 related updates. 

  1. Acknowledge that employees with caregiving responsibilities are likely to face challenges when working from home and express a general understanding that normal hours and business priorities may need to shift. 
  2. Provide clear updates to sick, vacation and FMLA policies and how managers should discuss use of paid and unpaid time off with their employees.
  3. Explain to managers that many of the usual back-up care options for employees are not currently available due to social distancing restrictions (or ‘shelter-in-place’ conditions).
  4. Encourage managers and employees with caregiving responsibilities to use our template ‘Action Plan For Working From Home When You’re Caring For Others’ to communicate with one another. 
  5. Host open calls for all caregiving employees to get updates from leaders and partner with parent employee resource groups if they exist.

Manager of employees with caregiving responsibilities

We know you are in a tough spot. You have deadlines, targets, and deliverables you must meet.  And you are responsible for your team’s ability to perform but you also need to support and care for your employees.  

  1. Offer your direct reports our template Action Plan for Working from Home When You’re Caring for Others. This tool can help you both engage in constructive dialogue about work expectations over the coming weeks.
  2. Be open-minded. Every employee situation is unique and will change depending on whether have a partner at home, whether person also working remotely, whether they have additional care support, and the age and independence of their children.
  3. Be honest about deadlines and expectations for priorities and timelines. Don’t assume they will underperform because they are juggling caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers are especially resilient, adaptable and great at time management.
  4. Seek counsel from your peers, manager, and HR team if your employee is not able to meet your expectations. Ask for help in determining the appropriate steps for addressing the situation and understanding if your expectations are realistic. 
  5. Assume positive intent in conversations with your direct reports who are caregivers, and recognize that everyone is under stress.

Employee with caregiving responsibilities

While there are many things you can’t control at the moment, there are some which you can. It is important to focus on how you can empower yourself right now. Here are the steps we recommend:

  1. Take the leadon crafting your Action Plan For Working From Home When You’re Caring For Others. This plan should include your availability, prioritized responsibilities, ways you will stay connected with your manager, team, clients, etc.
  2. Craft an out-of-office messagethat you update regularly, indicating your likely availability. Knowing approximately when you will be available can help reduce anxiety for clients, contacts, and colleagues who reach out to you. The message can include a note of a gratitude for their patience in the event your schedule changes. 
  3. Share the caregiving load at home (when relevant – we recognize that some caregivers, such as single parents, do not have a partner at home). If you do have a partner at home, be sure to develop a proactive plan to divvy up caregiving responsibilities during the day. Re-negotiate your care plan nightly as circumstances and deadlines change.
  4. Prioritize your mental health. It’s impossible to do your job or care for your children if you are not intentionally scheduling some time for yourself.  
  5. Assume positive intent in conversations with your manager and your company, and recognize that everyone is under stress.

In the case of my husband, the simple note from leadership didn’t mean that he wasn’t stressed or that he didn’t feel the pressure to be available and responsive just like he was in the office.  On day two of working from home with kids, we both felt overwhelmed, stressed and already guilty that we weren’t fully present with work or with kids. But we sat back down with our action plans, determined what additional communication needed to occur and realigned our own expectations. Day three was better, but we both know that we are in this for the long haul and it truly is about ensuring we keep communication open, on-going, and constructive at home and at work.