• Distance Learning, Working Parents and Employers - Oh My!

    Fall 2020's Back-To-School hasn't been the "jump for joy" moment that many parents typically feel. Across the nation, school districts are pushing back the start of the year, embracing distance learning, and finding workable options to keep students and teachers safe as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Each school district is doing something different, and many parents aren't given a choice of how students are getting their education.

    In response, many companies are continuing work-from-home initiatives and allowing a more flexible schedule for their employees. Gone is the 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday workweek, and instead, many parents are given more flexible options to complete their tasks while balancing helping children with lessons, acting as caregivers for smaller children or an elderly relative, and still giving their best for their employer.

    Working from home, especially for those who aren't used to it or for businesses that rely on collaboration and teams, can be challenging without adding in extra responsibilities. Many parents were challenged in the spring to finish out the year by fitting remote learning around meetings and other company requirements, and these challenges are back for the fall.

    With dozens of childcare centers, especially early learning ones, throughout the area closing, there's an increasing challenge for parents to find childcare as their offices gradually reopen. Allan Hancock College has witnessed this challenge firsthand.

    "Emergency childcare became necessary for essential workers in the community," explained Maria Suarez,  manager for the Orfalea Children's Center at Allan Hancock College. "The Orfalea Children's Center recognized the community's need and opened its doors to provide safe and quality care for children from 3 months to 10 years of age. Emergency childcare offered essential workers the opportunity to get childcare, allowing them to continue providing services in their community."  

    Companies throughout the area have been responsive in other ways too, including allowing more flexible schedules, adding extra personal and sick days, and even offering remote "day camps" to help children stay engaged and entertained as parents work.

    “We have certainly heard the full range of responses from local businesses,” said Glenn Morris, president & CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber.   “While some have found solutions that are working for now, many have indicated that they are very concerned about the long-term impacts on employees and their families.”
    Morris went on to say, “The Chamber, like many small businesses, has had to address this situation for our team.    We’re trying to be as flexible as we can and recognize that our team members have a lot of demands on their time.   To the extent that people can get their work done well and still collaborate with the rest of the team, our focus will be to find solutions that meet individual needs.”

    Each business is different, and there are some instances where participation in certain meetings or other collaborative events is mandatory. The flexibility and understanding of the company of the different "hats" their staff must wear throughout the day makes a difference in helping employees manage the added stress and responsibilities.

    There are a few key things that remote workers should embrace in order to make remote learning and their professional responsibilities both be successful. First, be organized. Create a daily schedule, starting with times that each family member must be available to participate in a classroom virtual lesson or meeting. Then, block out times where children study, and parents work on projects that require their full concentration.

    Here's a tip: schedule your "don't interrupt" work time at the same time that you're able to book childcare to occupy younger kids or the time that you schedule for older kids to read a book or go play outside. Don't schedule your "concentration-time" during the same time that kids are working on assignments that they require supervision or assistance. You'll be interrupted and you both will get frustrated.

    If you are an employer, you may want to consider adding childcare allowances or stipends to create at-home offices for remote workers. These childcare stipends may allow workers to pay for a part-time nanny or hire a friend or family member for in-home childcare, limiting the exposure to COVID. Whether it's extra personal time to be used to help care for children and supplement remote learning from the local school district or setting up virtual childcare, many businesses are looking into different ways to support their staff and we encourage local employers to do the same.

    This, plus initiatives such as job-sharing and allowing part-time work without penalizing an employee on their career trajectory, can help businesses retain their top talent amid the pandemic and help remote workers reduce their stress and still be a valuable contributing member of their team