ollowing new lockdowns in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the closure of schools, I’ve pulled together five top tips to help your members of staff who are parents. For many this decision means a return to furiously juggling plates as they are expected to be a productive team member, a teacher and a parent.
Both employers and employees may find it tricky to get the balance right, and it is natural to have concerns about making this work.
As a mother and as an HR expert, I’ve pulled together my five top tips to help your company create an effective strategy to manage the next few weeks.
1. Whether staff member or employer, have a plan
Please talk to the children in your household to see what needs to be completed and create a schedule of an optimal time for work and learning. Speak to line-managers about this timetable.
As an employer, listen to your team members and propose more flexibility in working hours. Where possible, ring-fence key meetings where staff must be present try to match these to an employee’s personal timetable. If this isn’t possible, consider sharing supporting material in advance and recording virtual meetings, so all employees can catch up at a later point.
Understanding that there will be differences in the style of schooling is also important - some schools put material online for parents to download, while others live-stream lessons. This will mean different time-management approaches and stresses for parents.
2. Start the day on a positive
Home-schooling and working can impact on motivation, especially in these cold winter months, but I find that sticking to a timetable and starting the day at 9.00am will positively impact your mindset.
Make the most of this period to have a family breakfast instead of the usual mayhem in the kitchen and the rat run rush!
3. Zooming, ping and lag
With more people at home, the Wi-Fi will of course be stretched. Parents of older children who are into online gaming will be all to aware of issues such as ping and lagging which will occur when the internet is struggling to cope! As well as leading to shouty teenagers, it will also mean hanging, freezing and dropping out of video conference calls.
Speaking to your employees to make sure they have the equipment necessary to both school and work from home is an easy win. While many may have worked with temporary solutions in 2020, it is now worth carrying out a DSE risk assessment to identify any gaps.
As an aside, it’s also worth checking whether there are better internet deals available which offer more capacity – sometimes an extra £5 a month can solve connection issues and will make home workers more productive.
As a colleague, please be aware of the situations your co-workers might be working under and show understanding if technology fails. An easy way to do so is to start-off every zoom or teams meeting with a quick reminder to attendees that technical issues do occur.
If things do go offline, freeze or lag, take a breath, the most important thing is to not panic. Assuming the IT trick of turning your computer off and then back on hasn’t worked, then you can always join via phone, or call a colleague later to catch-up.
4. Make it flexible
While as adults we might feel we’re pretty good at adapting to new situations, especially after the 2020 we had, it can be much harder for children who will require more support. Therefore, it is vital to build-in flexibility to your day so you can achieve the impossible and be a parent, teacher and a productive colleague.
Think about when your child works best, and with the least need for input from you, and plan your more focused work periods to fit in around those. Make sure your line-manager understands this too.
Avoid seeing the day as a standard eight hour period… For example, can you steal some hours when online schooling finishes to spend down time with your child? Likewise, can you schedule calls with colleagues once your child’s school day has finished? You may want to speak to another adult by then too!
5. Talk, Talk, Talk
It is vital that employees and employers are honest with each other. There should be no negative impacts on those employees who have children at home and employers should, in fact, be viewing this an opportunity.
In normal circumstances creating a family friendly culture, embracing diversity and nurturing a productive workforce takes time to embed. This new lockdown is a chance to clearly demonstrate values which are highly attractive to staff in the space of just a few weeks.
Employers who are successful and flexible will ultimately be rewarded with a more loyal and happy workforce. The benefits of which will be seen far beyond the next few weeks of lockdown.
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Claire Clifford is Head of Business Support and Corporate Services at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE). Follow Claire on Twitter.