How companies are helping returning employees juggle childcare

As people start to go back to work, here are six ways companies are easing the transition

October 01, 2020

As more companies look at ways for employees to re-enter the office after COVID-19 lockdowns, childcare has become a top concern. With education restrictions varying from state-to-state and even county-to-county, employers are scrambling to establish uniform guidelines to support their workforce, while at the same time maintaining productivity.  

“There are 34 million U.S. workers with school-age children at home. That’s essentially one-quarter of all U.S. employees who care for a child under 14,” says Christian Beaudoin, Managing Director of Research and Client Advisory for JLL, on a recent Building Places podcast

Only 32% of organizations had outlined plans to accommodate childcare for their employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Here’s what companies are doing to support parents with children at home across the U.S. and help navigate the next phase of their return to work.

1. Maintaining flexible work-from-home schedules for parents with children attending virtual or hybrid school.

Disparate education policies will have an inevitable impact on business in the short term. Without creating agile work-from-home policies and offering a flexible schedule, some parents will be forced to reduce hours or even leave their jobs. According to a recent survey from Syndio, 14% of women and 11% of men are considering quitting their jobs due to work-family conflict related to COVID-19.

2. Allow employees without children to re-enter the office.

Employees have adapted to working from home out of necessity throughout COVID-19, and while Google, Microsoft, and Zillow have announced work-from-home policies that extend into 2021, many employees are keen to return to the office. According to Beaudoin, the 100% remote-working model limits the collaboration and innovation that happens in person--a prolonged remote strategy doesn’t work for everyone—which is why there are flexible solutions that employers can consider for employees who are not working parents.

3. Utilizing unused or short-term office space allows parents to bring older kids to work for virtual learning and studying.

According to JLL’s Occupancy benchmarking guide, the actual utilization rate in office space pre-COVID-19 was on average 60% across industries. For employees that need to be in the office during school hours, JLL’s Research Director Patricia Raicht says to consider converting conference room space or unused offices into online learning hubs — allowing employees to support their children’s educational needs and remain productive at work.

4. Limiting meetings to certain times of day to support remote learning schedules for those at home.  

Attending a Microsoft Teams meeting while simultaneously preparing a child for virtual school at 8 A.M. can be counterproductive for parents and employers. To make the best use of meeting time, Raicht recommends avoiding scheduling meetings during key online learning moments.

5. Subsidized tutoring, online resources, or childcare.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 7.1 million students, 14% of total public-school enrollment of students aged 3 to 21, who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Budgets previously set aside for office perks can be repurposed to provide more educational tools and services. “Offering financial resources for childcare and tutoring will reduce the stress of juggling work with virtual education systems — especially for parents with special needs kids,” noted Raicht.

6. Helping low-wage earners in their ability to provide the necessities of life.

School closures have had a disproportionate effect on lower wage earners. JLL Research shows that more than 40% of lower income parents are concerned about their children falling behind in school because of these coronavirus disruptions. Some families depend on the education system for meals and access to health resources. Many do not have access to high-speed internet or a computer in the home. According to Raicht, “Our research has found that food insecurity is an issue for almost 14% of U.S. households with children. In the U.S., almost 30 million students depend on school for their lunch.” 

Some companies have converted their cafeteria into a pantry throughout the pandemic, allowing parents to pick-up free healthy and nutritious food options. Others are offering gift cards for groceries and delivering meals to employees on the job. 

“Amid significant uncertainty, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to re-entering the office and supporting working parents. However, flexibility will play a substantial role for employees with school-age children in the upcoming academic year,” says Beaudoin.