What Could Be: Embracing Family-Friendly Trends in the New Workplace

It is possible - perhaps even probable - that we will emerge after COVID with the majority of companies trending in a more parent-friendly and caregiver supportive direction.

As we roll into the second summer of COVID, the mood has changed. Shots are in more arms than not, masks are coming off, schools and camps are happening, and workplaces are trying to figure out what comes next. The optimism is real and so is the undercurrent of caution. It’s been 15 months of shifting sands and many of us are not quite ready to believe that we have arrived at the“new normal” yet.

While I can’t pretend to know what the post-COVID world will look like, I do know that we have a responsibility to keep pushing for the changes we want to see.

Last month The New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC) held an event called “New Ways to Work: Insights & Innovative Tools”. Margo Stokum and Sharmon Priaulx shared data from the newest PwC US Remote Work Survey. Throughout the presentation, I found myself furiously scribbling notes and recognizing again and again that the trends PwC report highlights are what we’ve been fighting for. Work is evolving in ways that are more supportive of parents.

The silver linings we have been talking about seem like they have the potential to stick. Let’s keep the pressure on just a little longer to make sure that these changes are fully adopted.

Here are a few of the family-friendly trends that I am seeing in the new way of working:

Flexibility & remote work

This is the big obvious takeaway. For years parents and caregivers have been pushing for more flexibility and the ability to work remotely, often being told it wasn’t possible or practical. COVID showed us the fallacy in this belief. For the past year, we’ve enjoyed dinners with our families, less driving, and mid-day dog walks. These simple joys make us better at our jobs and more present at home. This benefits everyone - not just caregivers.

The PwC report found that over the past year we keep getting better at working from home. We’ve learned how to interact with one another virtually. We’ve overcome technology challenges and now use it to our advantage. Productivity has risen and I can only imagine how that will continue to rise will be once schools, camps, and daycares fully reopen.

The report also showed that there is no “one size fits all” solution to how much WFH or flexibility is ideal. It varies between industries, job roles, and individuals. To successfully implement WFH and flex schedules into their workplace, policies will need to look more like guardrails. Set the expectations and empower supervisors to make individual decisions. Again, this is a philosophical shift that applies to all employees, therefore removing the stigma that individual requests for schedule changes are just a working parent issue.

Community & Culture

Near the beginning of the pandemic my daughter articulated that the people she most missed are the ones she sees in passing. The kid at the next locker over who she says hi to multiple times a day but doesn’t really know. The SPED teacher whose job is to assist one student but makes everyone else feel special at the same time. It's the peripheral people in her sphere that she never thought about until suddenly they weren’t there.

At work, these people are part of the culture and fabric of the workplace community. As working parents, we rely on other parents - many of whom we may not have direct connections with - to be part of our parenting journey. We hear their experiences and learn from them. We see how they navigate work & life. Together we make parenting and working the norm in our companies.

Over the past year we lost this piece of our community and the culture that stems from it. Employers have taken notice. They are intentionally talking about the culture they want to foster and finding innovative ways to build community. At the NEEBC event, 62% of attendees ranked community #1 of what they miss about going to the office and talked about how to create those connections in our new hybrid world. With all of the momentum around community and culture, now is the time to make sure that caregivers and parents are part of the conversation.

Reimagining the purpose of the workplace

As the US talks about what life is like post-COVID, many companies are putting together Return to Workplace programs. This is an opportunity to reimagine the workplace and build it back better than before. The experience of parents and caregivers can shape a more humanistic workplace.

In the PwC report, leadership skills are being redefined. They predict there will be an emphasis on empathy, navigating change, trust, communication, and optimism. There is an increased focus on employee wellbeing including mental health and work/life integration. Supervisors are being empowered to make decisions that are best for their team and individual contributors.

In addition to COVID, the past year has opened dialog around diversity and equity. As companies are taking their DE&I initiatives to the next level, many are recognizing “caregivers'' as a subset of employees that have unique needs. We see the formation of new caregiver ERGs and the maturing of existing ERGs to tackle systemic issues as well as continue to provide connection and resources to parents.

One concept from PwC that I find thrilling is a new executive position: Chief Purpose Officer. This person would be part of the core leadership team and have culture, community, and employee experience at the heart of all they do. At Soutiens, we dream about Working Parent Coordinators - a cross-functional position that would be an advocate and resource for working parents. The Working Parent Coordinator would be instrumental in retaining and attracting working parents and ensuring they are successful in the workplace. Imagine a world where Working Parent Coordinators report to Chief Purpose Officers and together they bring “Parent-Friendly Workplace” to a whole new level.

Sharmon Priaulx ended the presentation with this exclamation point and I now pass it to you:

“It would be an absolute crime to return to the same old without examining what could be”.

As you move forward, I invite you to examine what could be and take advantage of this fresh start to make it happen.

If your company is ready to embrace parent employees and is looking for ideas to create meaningful change, schedule a consultation with the experts at Soutiens.

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