As a mother of two little girls (Olivia, age 3.5, and Hadley, age 16 months) I understand the unique challenges working parents face in this unprecedented time.
For years, I have been following the conversations around “the double shift,” which refers to parents who work two shifts in a row, moving from their daily workload in the office to their domestic responsibilities at home. My first boss out of college was a working mother who became a mentor to me—someone I admired for flawlessly juggling work and parenthood. She was passionate about both and somehow managed to make the juggle look easy. I remember working an after-hours social event (which I loved because I was 23 at the time) in her place because she had to get home for dinner and bedtime with her two children. I didn’t realize it at the time, but watching her juggle both “shifts” made a real impression on me and informed how I’ve grown into a working mother. I’ve always been a proponent of working parents, especially working mothers, and have championed the idea of developing a career while raising children.
Working parents are facing a particularly challenging time, as the boundaries between work and home have completely broken down, resulting in the need for parents to juggle between parent mode to work mode and back again each day. The “double shift” is now the “double double shift.” Between putting three meals on the table, homeschooling, hosting Zoom meetings and conference calls, doing laundry, cleaning the house and trying to be present as both an employee and a parent, working parents are struggling and facing burnout. According to a Survey conducted in April 2020 by LeanIn.org and Survey Monkey, working mothers are now spending 71 hours of every week on housework and caregiving, including the new responsibilities of the pandemic, which is nearly the equivalent of two full-time jobs—and that’s before she starts doing her actual full-time job. While the target of this survey was working women specifically, I must believe this is true for working parents overall.
I have been fortunate enough to work for a company that supports working from home. Being on a virtual team allowed me to choose when I wanted to come into the office pre-COVID, and I value having that choice. I am a social person and enjoy the personal connectivity the office brings, even if most of my team works in other cities around the globe. The transition to full-time at home has been admittedly easier for me than some of my peers, since I already had a home office equipped with the necessities to be productive outside of my workplace. However, I, like most working parents right now, face many challenges to juggle it all and I’m grateful to be supported by my virtual team.
Some of the most common challenges working parents face right now can be supported by employers and peers. Here are three ways you can support working parents during COVID-19:
Meet them where they are
The thing about COVID is that it connects us all. We are all experiencing the effects of a global pandemic and that binds us together, but it’s important to understand that the sentiment can evolve and not everyone feels the same way. It’s essential to meet your employees and peers where they are and adapt to what is effective for them—not you. Meeting them where they are in their journey means you should listen without judgement and ask questions openly and honestly. To best support working parents, go straight to the source and ask them what they need. Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution, managers can talk to their employees to learn how to provide the right kind of assistance.
Give them the flexibility to schedule their work around
what needs to get done at home
The first way you can support the transition is to nail the basics and ensure your employees have the equipment that they need to be at their best. Managers can give their employees flexibility to schedule their work around what works best for them. Perhaps they start later in the day or end earlier in the day. If they are co-parenting, they might work best by splitting the day with their partner and blocking off certain hours to manage childcare. Respect what works for them and do your best to offer support if your situation is different. By removing judgement and encouraging empowerment, you will get a better work product by quieting any fears they might have.
Encourage social connections and provide a forum
to share with each other
The need for social connections has not gone away overnight. Quarantine can be very isolating, so try to create experiences that bring people together to create virtual community. Parents are willing to lend support more now than ever. Give employees the platform to share and create connections they might not otherwise have created. Start a Slack channel specifically for parents, recipe sharing or even book or podcast recommendations—people want to share what is working for them and get suggestions for the things that might not be working so well. Look for opportunities to bring people together in a fun way—consider creating a theme to your next team call and encourage everyone to participate.
While working parents face many challenges, there are also bright spots. I have spent more time with my children playing outside, eating meals together and helping them learn virtually. I traveled throughout a good amount of the last year, and although I have a fantastic support group at home, I missed a lot of bedtime stories and meals with my family. I’m grateful that I’ve had time to slow down and spend this time with my children. While the “double double shift” is challenging, the support I have across my community has allowed me to make it work.
I’m excited to get back to my workplace and see my colleagues in person, but I’m thankful for the time I have at home, even if the boundaries are a bit blurred.
Lauren Schwalb, Host’s Director of Deployment and Operations, leads the deployment of Host in CBRE’s offices and is responsible for activating CBRE workplaces through Host’s innovative service and technology solutions. She’s passionate about changing the way people work and making the workplace a destination of choice. As one of Host’s original team members, Lauren has also served in a variety of roles within the organization. She is often referred to as the human Waze by her colleagues and can be found assisting with strategic direction and providing process management in the Host team’s fast-paced environment.
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