Remote work and parenting – employee engagement is key

Every company in the nation should want to help working-parent employees through this particularly difficult time. But the real question is, how?  How can we as credit unions step in to support our employees’ increasingly complex lives?

For those preparing to return to the office, months of working at home likely revealed, perhaps unexpectedly, that presence at the office is not a necessary requirement for productivity. Providing employees with the ability to blend work from home and office, managed by a schedule of their own making, can provide a helpful and meaningful level of choice, decision-making, and empowerment.

To build trustworthiness and provide transparency, conduct listening sessions to learn about the needs of employees … then act on that feedback! Some staff will need very little support while others may feel out of touch, unsupported and/or under appreciated.

We need to be proactive in asking employees what they need in order to be successful in remote work and balancing family/schooling obligations. I will add that while discussions center on parents managing work from home and childcare/schooling, this also applies to employees who may now be caring for a parent or loved one, and are also in need of flexibility and accommodations to meet their caregiving obligations.

By engaging with employees, we allow them to have a voice in the policy decision-making.

Consider this, if long-term, remote work is the trend, companies are going to save 30% – 40% of their income on office space because we don’t need that anymore. Maybe we need to explore how we allocate those dollars to support employees.

Companies could provide childcare benefits and perks, help pay for grocery delivery and house cleaning. In other words, funds to help support the scaffolding that parents need to keep their complex lives going.

In this new abnormal, parents will need more childcare options than before. According to a July 2020 study of 550 US companies by Willis Towers Watson, less than one-third of employers have childcare plans for working-parent employees who are returning to work. Employers can assist parents by leveraging benefit providers or even crowdsourcing curated lists of local tutors and accessible resources that give them a place to start.

It is also important to foster socioemotional support and a sense of community. It takes a village and parents just want to know they’re not alone in this struggle. Build touch points for others in the credit union to share their parenting experiences and demonstrate vulnerability.

This can be accomplished by: Creating a Parent ERG (Employee Resource Group), bringing in expert facilitators to help normalize stressors and talk through unique circumstances, and/or providing 1:1 counseling and parent/family therapy, even for employees who aren’t on your health plan.

Get Creative

Remote social interaction is too often overlooked. Structuring virtual social calls, and even optional small in-person gatherings with proper social distancing can go a long way toward addressing the need for social time. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Virtual lunch buddies to encourage taking a break: Too often we push through or are distracted by family obligations. Having a lunch buddy forces us to take a break and also offers that social interaction and check-in opportunity.
  • Virtual yoga/exercise classes: This can create team cohesion by having department or branch contests engaging in physical activity … further promoting wellness.
  • Walking meetings: These are short meetings where teams are on the phone and outside, walking … around the block, at a park, etc. The goal is to encourage connection, breaking up the routine and also promotes staying active.
  • Stipends for lunch delivery: Many larger credit unions (or sponsor/business park) offer subsidized cafeterias. With remote work, this is no longer an option. 
  • Friday Virtual Pizza Night (Family Friendly): My husband’s team hosted a virtual cooking class. This was designed as a family friendly event. A local chef led the class, the company reimbursed employees for all supplies needed, even wine! We huddled around the computer with our kids and made pizza dough from scratch, cooked our pizzas and engaged in fun discussion, adults and kids alike. Pokemon and Minecraft were common themes.

The point is, think outside the box and make the most of the situation – engaging employee in the process. It is also important to keep in mind that many if not all work-related family events have also been sidelined. So if you can, as I shared above, look for ways to bring that into the mix.

Finally, offering encouragement and emotional support is something leaders can and should do whether in-office or remotely. You can simply ask, “How is this new arrangement working out for you?” and “Are we having the right amount and format of check-in meetings?” This will invite input and opportunities for listening and learning.

Bottom-line, those organizations that have missed the mark on extending empathy and understanding are those who have failed to acknowledge that a disruption to typical caregiving plans will continue to persist for an unknown time period; and those who have continued to manage by counting time at a desk rather than results delivered.

There are no easy answers to navigating the current reality of balancing remote work and parenting, no clarity on what the best decisions are or even the timeline in question. There is one certainty – this crisis has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent the workplace. Things that might once have seemed impossible have proven surprisingly doable. With collaboration essential to innovation, the ideas shared here will hopefully enable you and your credit union to not only survive, but thrive. 

Let’s replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity and work towards solutions to define our path forward.

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