For working parents, the last five months have been a marathon, run at a sprint pace. Lockdown with children – the frantic ’double shifts’ of work and care – has been followed by the actual summer holidays.
Care and attention
During these strange times, one winner has been Remote Working: with any lingering doubts about productivity blown aside in a flurry of resourcefulness and resilience. However, for the long haul, employers and employees recognise that working from home only really works when children are busy at school, nursery or in other care arrangements. In Bright Horizons’ recent survey of 1,500 working parents, when asked what would help manage work, life and family, 70% indicated a need for more support from their employer with long term childcare and 64% indicated that backup care for emergencies would ease their delivery of work.
There’s a role here for ad hoc individual care, and there is growing recognition of the value for children and young people of group care and educational settings for socialising and positive mental health and wellbeing. Employers who might once have wondered whether to help with care are now asking: how?
The need to help employees with care has sparked innovation. Sometimes, workplace parents’ networks have been the catalyst for social bubbles to form purely around the need to share childcare across a couple of households. Usually, Holiday clubs are the go-to option for working parents to cover part of the summer, while ensuring children have educational fun. This year’s version is served up as virtual holiday clubs. It sounds implausible as a way of entertaining little people, but the better ones, (like those Bright Horizons is making available to our clients) come with a box of equipment to your door, covering everything from dressing up to science experiments and genuinely keep young minds and bodies busy. No more crashing meetings requesting a ping pong ball, a hairdryer and an old CD to satisfy a random idea.
The office is not dead
As we look through this long, hot summer to the Autumn, the debate continues about the new normal. Many employees, including parents and carers, have valued the chance for real conversations now about different, more flexible, patterns of work. Still, there is a huge yearning for the office or workplace. Extraverts, in particular, simply miss the social side: the energising sights, sounds and feel of meatspace (as opposed to cyberspace). Many comment that they crave ideas sparked in chance meetings, though judging by the popularity of the Swedish office noise website Sound of Colleagues, some of us are simply more productive when we hear others working.
There is also an important equality point: some people’s homes are just not set up for work. The commute even has a mixed reputation: many feel freed from this daily slog, or worried about its risks, while others reminisce about that vital ‘switch off time’ separating work and home.
Cities need employers, too. There’s a pressure to balance our growing awareness of the climate crisis with a wish to save these hubs of life and work, and employers have a role here too. The ongoing mix appears to be a more conscious blend of work locations. Employers who provide onsite childcare give an attractive reason to venture back. Some are now securing places for their employees’ children at covid-safe nurseries near their offices, while possibly the record in providing dedicated onsite care goes to the Broad Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts, having a new Bright Horizons childcare setting running in under 3 weeks from the initial idea, while its people worked on covid testing and other vital projects.
Now you see me
The pandemic has been humanising. We’ve seen it all on camera: children, dogs, piles of laundry, the unexpected glimpse of Hawaiian shorts as a smart-shirted colleague rises to open a window. The UK was charmed by little Scarlett who wandered into (Assistant Professor) Mummy’s office during a BBC TV interview wondering where to place her unicorn picture, and went viral.
Visibility of real people’s real experience has increased in other ways too, with Black Lives Matter. There is a directness and urgency now, a need to talk about combatting racism rather than running an unconscious bias workshop and hoping for the best.
Managers who think about ‘people’ rather than ‘resources’ have been the heroes. For the less experienced, guidance and checklists addressing people as well as policy aspects can help in moments that matter. With uncertainty for all, and redundancies in a third of UK businesses, a good, people-focused manager will be a huge asset now and in future, helping to keep the business, and culture, going. Our research found having a supportive and flexible line manager was a make-or-break factor in staying happy and productive through lockdown.
So, caring is now more visible and the role of care provision is better understood as part of the infrastructure. As employers, we need to continue listening and finding creative solutions.
By Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions. Jennifer will be delivering a Speaker Session as part of the Reba Virtual Employee Congress at 12:10 on 23rd September. Her session: ‘Best Practice for Working Parents: engage and support your expert work-life jugglers, back to school, back to work and into the future’ will share further insights from working with leading employers to solve the challenges for employees who combine work and family. Bright Horizons provides a wide range of work and family solutions to over 1,200 leading employers globally.
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