How to support your employees who are working remotely with kids at home

4 tips for helping parents who work from home

Wade Foster
Wade Foster / Published September 4, 2020

Life is different now, particularly for working parents who were suddenly given a second full-time job when daycare and schools shut down and are still faced with uncertainty as summer comes to an end.

I won't pretend to have any idea what the parents of school-aged kids I work with are dealing with right now. They are doing amazing work in a situation that's far from ideal. As leaders, it's our responsibility to make sure parents feel supported right now. Here are a few ways we're doing that at Zapier.

Be flexible about meetings

Sometimes parents will be late to Zoom meetings. Kids are home instead of attending school or daycare. They're bored, they're frustrated, and they miss their friends. Parents are trying to keep their kids on track at school, making sure they eat their lunch, and hoping against hope that no one pours an entire gallon of milk on the carpet. Leaders need to be patient and understanding.

Kids will barge into video calls too—a lot. Remember: not everyone has a home office with a door that closes. Even if they do, kids are going to barge into rooms they're not supposed to be in. Give parents a minute to see if they can get their kids back on track; if not, offer to postpone the meeting.

Avoid frustration. Instead, say hi to the kid. It's an opportunity for them to learn a bit about their parents' work. Doing this helps put everyone at ease.

You don't always need a meeting

Time is an increasingly scarce resource, particularly for parents. Not every decision needs a meeting. Many decisions can happen over email, chat, or in the comment section of a shared document. This is called working asynchronously, and it's a huge part of what allows remote workplaces to function efficiently. It's especially important now.

Just keep in mind that sometimes decisions can get stuck while working asynchronously, and when that happens, you'll likely need to escalate to a live meeting.

People's working hours won't be normal—and that's ok

One of the best things about remote work is flexibility. This is essential to working parents right now, who are juggling way more responsibilities than usual. It's important that leaders don't just tolerate the unpredictable schedules but actively embrace it.

Parents at Zapier take advantage of this flexibility even under normal circumstances—it's even more important now. Some wake up early, work for a couple of hours, then use the rest of the morning to focus on their kids before getting back to work in the afternoon. This allows them to trade off parenting duties to their significant others, many of whom are also working full-time jobs while parenting.

It doesn't matter when work gets done, only that it gets done.

Create a sense of community

Every situation is different, but all parents are up against a massive challenge right now.

At Zapier, we have a channel on Slack specifically for parents, where folks share pictures, advice, and stories about lockdown parenting life. A bunch of grassroots activities started there. For example, there's a virtual "take your kid to work day," where kids of employees host a Zoom presentation for other Zapier kids. Highlights so far include "My Favorite Toys" and "Lego Show and Tell." It's one way parents can build community (and also keep the kids busy for a while).

And it's not just parents who can support each other. If you're not a parent, ask the parents you work with what they need, and what their schedules are currently like. If they're working on a high-priority project, offer to help.

Don't overlook the importance of community—it's vital, now more than ever.

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