A Glimpse Into the Crystal Ball for Working Parents

A Glimpse Into the Crystal Ball for Working Parents

Like many of you, my “old life” seems like a lifetime ago. That life where I woke up every morning, tag teamed with my husband getting the kids out the door for school, headed into the office for a day’s work then hustled home at the end of the day to run the gauntlet of dinnertime, bath time and bedtime before going to bed and then starting the process all over again the following day. It was tough…it was tiring…but it was relatively predictable.

Then came Coronavirus in early March and boy, she came at us like a freight train! With the virus came some unexpected silver linings and things that I am very thankful for, but by and large our lives as working parents have been  tipped upside down. I do have faith in the fact that things will eventually improve as more is known and understood about the Coronavirus, and I also know myself well enough to know that I will one day look back on this time of great quarantine and wish I could go back to the uninterrupted time with my family.

As my company {among others} has begun the conversations around “repopulating the workplace” {an actual term…I did not make that up, I promise!} and I talk with other parents as well as school administrators and officials, I can’t help but wonder, “What will the future of work look like for working parents?”

While so much is still unknown and yet to be decided for what schools are going to look like in the fall, I cannot help but to wonder how this “new normal” is going to impact the future of work for working parents and more specifically, how companies are going to be asked to step up to support working parents during these uncertain times.

Schedule Flexibility

One of the most critical topics I see employers are going to need to address very quickly is the schedule flexibility of the workforce. That’s great that traditional work hours have been the standard 8 AM to 5 PM for many, but that isn’t going to cut it if schools have to adopt staggered start times or alternating school days. Employers are going to need to dust off or develop a remote work policy sooner than later and start working out the kinks before schools hopefully reopen in the fall. Most employers {including my own} don’t get it right the first time and it will be worthwhile to consider what has been working or has not been working for that particular employer during the past 3 months of quarantine and decide where to make adjustments. Bottom line is that schools and childcare providers are going to have their own kinks to work out and they will likely require employers to be flexible to the fullest extent possible. Employers who choose to take a hard-nosed stance against providing working parents with schedule flexibility will be the first to lose key talent.

Location Flexibility

This is a big one. At least in my opinion, one of the big takeaways from the past 3 months of working from home during the quarantine has been the fact that employees are far more capable of literally working from anywhere than any of us ever imagined. Employers are going to need to get comfortable with the fact that employees are still capable of collaborating with one another and producing high quality work when not physically onsite. Even when our kids make cameo appearances in our virtual meetings and our pets announce their presence at the most inopportune times. The companies that resist this idea and revert back to the “butts in seats” and “I must see you to believe you are working” mentality of long ago will suffer various consequences of that approach. I am not advocating for everyone to work from home 100% of the time, but I do believe that there needs to be better balance. I also think that whether employers are comfortable with this idea or not, it will start to happen organically during the current financial downturn since there are so many financial benefits for companies to gain by reducing the footprint of their offices.

Reduced Travel

Many working parents are true road warriors {I’m lookin’ at you, consultants!} and spend considerable time away from their families. In a one-two punch to the travel industry, first we learned how quickly the Coronavirus could spread amongst travelers in confined spaces and then we learned how efficient we could be utilizing virtual collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom in lieu of in person meetings. As we come out of this, I expect many employees to travel less than before not only due to the financial benefits to their employer’s bottom line with reduced travel expense but also out of an abundance of caution and not wanting to potentially expose their loved ones to the virus upon their return.

Leave Policies for Working Parents

The CARES Act provided certain employees with better leave policies than before, but I do see the need for employers to evaluate whether their current leave policies still hold up in a Coronavirus environment. If you consider the fact that virtually everyone is having their temperature taken multiple times per day in some cases and both employees and their children are immediately sent home {sometimes for several days} before being allowed to return to the workplace, employers are going to need to figure out how to make this work for them as well as their employees. Work from home policies are a start, but will we see more of a shift toward standard Personal Time Off (PTO) instead of vacation time and sick time? Will we see companies adopt emergency leave offerings for their employees who need them? Will more employers see the value in expanded benefit offerings such as Backup Care to assist employees if their child has a non-life threatening fever or their child’s school is temporarily closed following a case of Coronavirus? Employers carefully considering how to support their employees throughout these unexpected Coronavirus curve balls not only benefits the employees, but it benefits employers as well.

As you can see, the future for working parents is not bleak:: it will just be different than before. Communication, transparency and trust between employers and their employees will be crucial as we enter this “new normal” and everyone involved is going to need to get their heads wrapped around the fact that these uncertain times are hard on us all; yet it’s worth the investment to work together on solutions.


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