We think we can safely say that anyone who’s home with kids during the pandemic deserves all the extra superhero medals, pats on the back, and any other reward we can think of. We’ve all been on the Zoom calls with kids interrupting, asking for snacks, fighting, you name it — and many of us have been those parents and caregivers trying hard to calm, soothe, and care for kids while coworkers are watching. With a fall school term of distance learning becoming more likely, the disruption will continue.
For founders and the C-suite, the challenge is how to support people at home with kids so they can stay productive and take care of their families. We recently asked Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, the chief innovation officer for BetterUp, and Kim Vu, global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Remitly (both are Threshold portfolio companies), to share their strategies for lifting up parents and caregivers with both practical and emotional support.
Be the “island of calm”
The ground keeps moving between the feet of parents and caregivers, especially this summer as they weigh the options for children’s schooling this fall. Your job as organizational leaders, says Kellerman, is to remind them — and keep reminding them — that you won’t let them down.
“As time goes by, parents get more and more concerned that they’re wearing out their welcome with these conversations,” Kellerman says. “So it’s really important to show up for them with a sense of, ‘We got you. We don’t want to add to your anxiety right now, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to help you.’ They need to feel that they can come to you if they need to and that the idea of coming to you for help is not a source of anxiety. That is one of the great gifts that you can give them.”
Normalize chaotic interactions — and never apologize for them
At Remitly, managers were told early in the pandemic that there were to be no criticisms of daily-life disruptions during video calls, Vu explains. “Everyone — from the top all the way down to the people-manager level — was very explicit about how meetings were being run, and that they were to be inclusive,” she says. “The idea was that there was no reason to ever apologize for kids, pets, deliveries — all the things that happen when you’re at home — showing up in the middle of a meeting.”
Institute check-ins on emotional well-being as well as performance
Along with showing compassion for the warts-and-all views of home life, Vu says Remitly has worked hard to normalize the routine of proactively asking parents and caregivers if they need help. “We need to get past the business-as-usual ‘What’s on your plate? What’s due this week?’ kind of conversations around performance,” Vu says. “We have to check in on the person to make sure that they have what they need so the manager knows how to support not only the individual, but also the team.”
Encourage vacations of any kind
Most of us are staying close to home this summer, if we go anywhere at all. But that doesn’t mean workers, and especially parents and caregivers, shouldn’t take time off if they’d normally do so.
“We had an all-hands where our CEO Alexi Robichaux talked about the importance of taking vacation right now,” Kellerman says, noting that everyone, parents included, should feel empowered to give themselves a break. “We talked directly about the reasons people aren’t taking vacations, and often, it’s because there weren’t exciting ideas,” Kellerman adds. “We had people share some of their experiences on recent family vacations. We followed up by having each manager talk to each individual on their team about their plans for vacation, normalizing the expectation right now that people should take that time, whether it’s with their family or just for themselves.”
Create spaces for peers to share strategies and support each other
Parents and caregivers are hugely resourceful and resilient people at the best of times. When the rubber hits the road, they’re going to be each other’s best source of support.
“Earlier this year, we’d launched a parents and caregivers employee resource group,” Vu says. “It’s really been activated during this time period. There are a lot of parents sharing best practices and lesson plans — the very tactical aspects. We also created Wellness Wednesdays where, both early in the morning and then later in the evening, we can support our teammates in global locations to just check in with one another. It has now evolved into a peer support group, which has been fantastic.”
If your company is small or mid-sized and you’re looking for fast and effective ways to support parents and caregivers, Vu recommends checking out the Working Parent Support Guide, an online resource she and other Seattle-area company leaders created. The guide covers topics like how to assess schools and daycare providers for safety, how to communicate with parents and caregivers, and what to do when you see people struggling to manage it all.
You can hear additional tips from Kellerman, joined by parenting coach, Debbie Stephens Stauffer, in a BetterUp Live episode they recently recorded — Meet Your Newest Coworkers: Your Kids. Together, they discuss different strategies for conquering the challenges of working from home with children.