Balancing act: Remote work and parenting in unprecedented times

Raising children has always been a community endeavor. As they say, “it takes a village”, and suddenly the village many of us have relied on is gone. It’s taking a toll on our careers, our family’s well-being and our children’s education. For many parents, myself included, this leaves us feeling stressed and stranded.

If we have learned anything during the past 6 months, it is how to be flexible and adapt to our changing circumstances, both personally and professionally. This is especially real if you are balancing home life while fulfilling your work obligations. 

How can we as credit unions navigate this path forward to support our employees? 

Well, to do so, we will need to get comfortable with chaos and the unknown and “build the airplane as we are flying it.” As professionals, we are worried about protecting our jobs, derailing our careers, balancing work and family, concerns about our kid’s academic progress, social development, mental and physical health for everyone, and, well, the list goes on.

Personally, I can relate to much of this. I worked from home before the pandemic and had a flexible schedule, lots of early mornings, late evenings, and creative scheduling to balance client needs and family. Having a 2nd grader and kindergartner, this was the year they would both be in school and life would be less chaotic, dare I say, even normal. Instead, I am now also trying to manage their schooling. I think as we move forward, we will need even more flexibility as parents and as professionals, especially, as some begin to transition back into the workplace.

I don’t think this will be a ‘flip of the switch, back to business as usual’ kind of a situation. We’ve seen that many jobs in our economy (and our credit unions) can be done remotely. For years, many working parents have been pushing for more flexibility, and more workplace policies that would allow time off as needed.

According to an August 2020 New York Times article, 80% of parents will be working remotely AND managing childcare and education. Single parent households, especially those with outside-the-home jobs (think essential workers) have even fewer options.

We need to be evaluating our policies to address this new reality — not just what can individual employers do, but what are the federal-level policies or state-level policies that we can put in place to ensure that working parents (and all workers) are guaranteed the flexibility they need to balance having a job and supporting their families.

Empathy, Understanding and Flexibility

If our organizations are viewed as inflexible and unaccommodating, it can lead to negative employee morale, as well as resentment of an increase in workload on others due to the loss of a team member, and the perception that the organization is not supportive of its employees.

It’s a given, not everyone has the option to transition to a remote working environment. We are witnessing a new version of the opportunity divide unfold across the country, with millions of frontline workers showing up for work every day in grocery stores, providing transportation, working in large distribution centers, and other essential roles. For us as credit unions, these are our front-line workers (our tellers and loan officers), in other words, Financial First Responders.

It is important, and will continue to be important, for employers to demonstrate empathy and understanding as they evaluate policies, practices, benefit programs, as well as compensation structures for these essential workers. With so much emphasis on supporting remote workers, how do we create equity with our employees that we need to literally show up every day at the office? And, as credit unions we have come to understand the pressing need and the unique opportunity we have to proactively tackle these challenges.

Develop a Remote-Work Policy

Employers will need to ensure their familiarity and compliance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) as well as state-specific laws. With this in mind, you can then create a policy that establishes expectations and guidelines, as well as communication plans to provide updates regularly within the organization. 

Some things to consider: Providing onsite childcare options. Providing a childcare stipend to cover caregiving support. Changing policies to explicitly allow for children to be in the home during working hours and clearly defining what this looks like.

A sound policy will clearly and fairly outline which employees can work from home, what hours they are expected to work, and set forth a set schedule of virtual meetings and other requirements. 

Where Remote Work May Not Be Possible – Allow Flexible Working Hours

During the typical 9-to-5 day, parents may need to look after their children for a portion of that time. As long as you don’t need employees to be in mandatory meetings, consider letting them work flexible hours.

As employers, credit unions should encourage their employees to discuss these types of scheduling issues and then work with employees to set expectations around availability. This is part of the larger remote working policy, having already defined which employees can work from home, what hours they are expected to work, etc.

Why it Matters

We need to make working flexibly the norm. This will require managing performance based on impact, not hours clocked (what we all should been doing anyway!), for roles where that’s possible.

Be thinking about what steps you need to take to help employees manage the challenges of working remotely, such as the blurring of work-life boundaries. And, what systems and benefits do you have in place and what systems and benefits do you need to put in place, in order to support employees?

Bottom-line, our HR policies and practices need to be responsive to the experiences of our employees, especially those who have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic.

Alison Carr

Alison Carr

Alison currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer for Your Credit Union Partner. In this capacity she supports: Community Development & Outreach Initiatives, Business Development, Speaking/Training Engagements, Strategic Partnerships and ... Web: Details