Parenting children on any given day can be a challenge. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have had to adapt to working from home while looking after (and attending to the many needs) of school-age children. This has certainly been my own experience as Director of Human Resources at Silverline, I’ve had to balance keeping my 3 and 5-year olds entertained, fed, and content during school and daycare closures while juggling work responsibilities, meetings, and assignments.
Overnight my workspace transformed from a quiet, bright, and airy office to the family kitchen table, ensuring I can keep an eye on everyone throughout the day. Giving 100% attention to my work is a luxury that I once had when I would go to the office; now I struggle with constant distractions. I can quantify in hours the time I spend daily chasing after one child who’s running away from their school lesson or reminding one who’s daydreaming to pay attention to their teacher or excusing interruptions from them that come in the middle of work meetings.
My breaks have changed from being times to disconnect to being flat-out hectic. Office breaks that once included catching up with co-workers, or a 30-minute midday walk outside, are now taken up by household duties that I was already doing in the evenings such as loads of laundry, emptying out the dishwasher, or preparing the next meal plus keeping my children busy and connected. The days are long and exhausting, and I often end up using an hour or two after the children are in bed to catch up on emails or just unwind from the hectic day that has passed.
44% of our workforce have children ranging from ages 0-16. While some of our employees have had to juggle working with toddlers around, others have been supporting elementary and high-school-aged children navigate the new world of online learning (not an easy task if you have sat in on a virtual Kindergarten lesson with 20 classmates who have not yet mastered the mute button). To help during this challenging time, our flexible work from home policy has supported the needs of all employees and has been particularly valued by those with families.
While work-life balance has been at the forefront of our cultural values and embedded in many of the decisions we make, our team was quick to support even additional accommodations we have made for those of us with children at home. Some employees block off time to accommodate toddler’s nap schedules and meal times, while others can now enjoy dropping off and picking up their children from school in areas where they have reopened. I personally try to take 30 minutes out of every afternoon to spend time with my children outdoors. In the summer months we would inflate a bouncy castle in the backyard, or enjoy a neighbourhood walk for some fresh air. In the colder months we bundle up, shovel snow, or make a snowman on the front lawn.
Here are some other policies that offer family support during Covid-19.
Unlimited/Flexible Paid Time Off (PTO)
Our unlimited and flexible paid time off (PTO) policy was pivotal in giving our employees time off to rest and recharge throughout the year. While international travel was virtually impossible in 2020, many of our employees enjoyed trips to the cottage, staycations, or random days off just to catch up on rest and spend quality time with friends or family. While this type of policy is gaining traction with small and medium-sized technology companies in Canada, there are still very few who offer this perk.
According to our annual employee engagement survey, our flexible vacation policy remains our top benefit. In a year where our employees have had to juggle shifting priorities, changing government guidelines, and providing exceptional service to our clients, offering the option to take time off whenever needed can help many avoid burnout, exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.
Variations in the Workday Schedule
In the typical office setting, the team was given the flexibility to start their workday between 8-10 am and end it between 4-6 pm. With the absence of the morning commute and children at home, many of us have had to adjust how and when we get our work done. For some of us, starting earlier in the morning gives us the flexibility to tend to little ones who require outdoor time and structured activities throughout the day. Those with toddlers have often had to juggle nap and feeding times with meetings and team commitments.
Although a lot of what we’re dealing with seems stressful and virtually impossible, many families have already gained and perfected the skill of multitasking. I can now say I have attended work calls from the neighborhood playground for an afternoon playdate, the splash-pad in the summer months, and the McDonald’s drive-thru while picking up those infamous Happy Meals for lunch.
If you find yourself in a situation with an unsupportive employer, know that there are other organizations out there with family-friendly policies that focus on the health and well-being of parents in the workplace. With a bit of planning the days can (somewhat) go according to plan, your work can be successfully completed, and your children can thrive from the unstructured time at home to be creative, use their imaginations, and bond with their siblings.
One thing we do know about the pandemic and our current situation is that it is not permanent. There will be hot coffee again, water-cooler chit chat, in-person team meetings, and lunch celebrations. Until then I strongly urge every family struggling and juggling working from home with raising children to take a deep breath, soak in the cuddles, kisses, and tears, and embrace the extra time with your children. I know I myself will never get back these years with my 3 and 5 year-olds, and it has been a blessing to see them each and every single day of the past year.