We are seeing a lot of our clients’ businesses really struggling with issues surrounding parents working from home. With school starting up again next week and home/online learning a reality for most parents, this is only going to continue to be an issue.

The impact that we are seeing is employees are getting increasingly stressed and frustrated with trying to fit their normal work-day into the new demands they are facing.

We have found that the majority of employees are trying to do the right thing, and want to continue to be productive but are being hampered by the realities of working from home with children.

This is leading to unsustainable levels of stress and in most cases longer work-days in an effort to either get the work done, or to meet their usual hours worked.

Employees are feeling unsupported and disengaged.

On the flip side managers are concerned about delivering on key directives and ensuring people are doing the right thing.

We believe that workplaces need to address these issues proactively with their employees.

But be aware all working at home parents are not created equal. Depending on the age of the child and whether they have special needs will greatly impact their supervision requirements. Even parents with older children are impacted as they help their children navigate online learning and address mental health and wellbeing needs. Whether your employee is a sole parent or has a supportive non-working partner at home will also make a difference to the supervision required by your employee. This is why a one size fits all approach won’t provide the support your employees need. But we have put some thoughts together on what you can be doing to address these issues:

  1. Address the issue proactively. Set up a formal or informal forum and invite staff and their teams to share their experiences, frustrations and issues. The aim of this is be a two-way conversation where both managers and employees have an opportunity to share their concerns. Managers should share their priorities and goals with the team and discuss any concerns around achieving goals and meeting expectations in the current climate. Likewise employees should share what is working well and not working so well. Get them time to share and talk about the challenges of working from home and especially working from home with children.
  2. Acknowledge that you understand this is a challenging issue and that you want to work with your employees to support them.
  3. Collectively brain storm what is working well and what is not working – share solutions and as a team come up with customised approaches to meet the needs of the team.
  4. Challenge the current model of 9-5 thinking. Parents might need flexibility around this. Likewise understand that working from home hours do not always translate. Meaning, once you take away the social interactions and ad hoc distractions, 8 hours in an office may only require 5 to 6 hours of focused work at home. Allow for this thinking when setting your expectations.
  5. Look at ways you can set up a results based or outcomes focused way of working – get your managers and staff focused on outcomes not hours worked. Set clear expectations on what needs to be done and by when then allow your staff to complete it in a time or manner that suits their particular needs.
  6. This is an opportunity for HR to take a lead role in supporting employees through these challenging times. Where appropriate get them involved your discussions.
  7. Encourage parents to set up a schedule that works for them and their children at home. This may involve chunks of child friendly time throughout the day. There a million online resources providing advice on how parents can distract, entertain and support their children. Again there is no fix all out there but there are things parents can do to give them some time for productive work. Where possible encourage them to block out child time in their diaries so meetings are not scheduled when they need to be with their children. This might coincide with morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea. Give your employees to be totally present with their children at this time.
  8. Make people feel comfortable on work calls when children appear. This is the new way of life.
  9. If you have concerns about specific employees then formally manage their performance. Otherwise give your employees the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can.
  10. Be mindful these are unusual and stressful times. Sometimes all your employees are looking for, is some empathy and understanding. Acknowledging and listening to their frustrations and providing encouragement might be all they need to feel supported. You will get through this by supporting each other and working together.

Good luck and remember to stay calm and reach out if you need support.

Power to Process are business consultants who support small and large businesses through transformation & change