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The new reality of remote work and caregiving

How can employers help homebound employees who are juggling a convergence of responsibilities?
By: | March 24, 2020 • 2 min read

As the coronavirus results in an increasing number of employees working remotely at the same time as schools are unexpectedly closed, many workers are finding themselves in completely uncharted waters. Those with little to no experience working remotely are adjusting to an entirely new way of working. Throw in one or more kids and no option of community programs or playdates with friends, and you’ve got quite a stressful situation. Many employees also serve as caregivers to elderly parents, only adding to the juggling act they must perform for the foreseeable future.

“The realities of balancing work at home with family member care are proving to be a significant shock to employees and managers alike,” says Philippe Weiss, president of Seyfarth at Work, the Chicago-based workplace-training subsidiary of Seyfarth Shaw. “For employees, there is a sudden, dual adjustment required—an adjustment to working at home, as well as to doing so surrounded by often loud, demanding and frustrating loved ones.”

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Employees are reporting a reduced ability to focus, Weiss says, while managers are worried that work expectations will go unmet. So, what can employers do to help employees manage the myriad aspects of their lives during this unprecedented time? One tactic is to lighten the load on workers by providing or subsidizing childcare or eldercare. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. recently announced the availability of 25 days of free Bright Horizons center-based or in-home care for each dependent child or adult/elder family member residing with any U.S. employee, including those working in stores, distribution centers and headquarters locations.

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Those employers who cannot go so far as to provide free care may point employees in the direction of caregivers still operating or to churches, YMCA/YWCAs and other organizations temporarily functioning as childcare centers. For those employees without access to such facilities—or who simply aren’t comfortable having their loved ones leave the house at this time—Weiss says managers must practice flexibility and patience. Ensure the focus is on output, not hours worked, schedule check-ins at reasonable times and be understanding if the sounds of family life are audible in the background.

“Managers should not be negatively reactive to hearing children in the background and accept that on-demand, real-time communication with every employee may not always be possible,” says Weiss. “So long as expected results are achieved, everyone can reasonably balance the realities of the situation.”

Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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