What this software company’s new childcare leave looks like

Despite having 12,000 employees across 105 cities in 38 countries, software corporation Autodesk was able to move to remote work in light of the pandemic rather easily, says Linda Ho, vice president of culture and capability. Sustaining that shift long-term, however, has taken significant forethought, supported by an employee-centric focus.

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Among Autodesk’s efforts to meet the evolving needs of its workforce is a new program rolled out last month that provides childcare leave–paid time off for parents who can’t work full time because of childcare issues. Employees can take up to four hours per day three days a week, with no limit on the time taken.

“That leave has not been capped,” says Ho, “so it could be ongoing until we fix the childcare issues that we have as a country.”

Ho spoke with HRE about this and other initiatives Autodesk is undertaking to engage and retain its working parents and other top talent.

HRE: How has Autodesk addressed the challenges of working from home, especially for those with kids?

Linda Ho

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Ho: We are trying to monitor burnout and stress. Your home and work life have become magically co-mingled in a way that happened so fast that people may not have been able to prepare mentally for it. On top of that, we have all these childcare issues that are so different in each country and state. There are a couple things we did to address the issue. We launched company paid holidays–three total–that allow everybody in the whole company to be off. You can take your own vacation but then you come back to a mountain of work and email. It’s actually quite freeing when the whole company is off.

Related: 8 trends in employer support for the childcare crisis

The second thing we launched is the remote childcare leave program, which is special paid leave for parents with childcare issues. We launched it in the beginning of July in anticipation of potential childcare issues that would be plaguing us in the September timeframe. We did this deliberately (after) reading a lot of reports of women starting to self-select out of the workforce. As you look at family dynamics with two working parents, the cost of childcare, pressures of eldercare–it’s all historically fallen on women, so we wanted to do what we could to support the women in our organization, and also the men.

HRE: How important has employee feedback been as you develop these and other policies?

Ho: It’s critical. We’ve always had this culture of employee feedback. We have a survey we launch every three months to gather feedback on key topics. We added an extra survey this year to focus on how the pandemic has impacted people’s lives. The other topic capturing employees’ minds and attention is racial and social injustice that’s coming to the surface. We spent some time digging into those two topics, about how they impact employees’ health and wellbeing, their ability to concentrate and, ultimately, what we could do to help people become more resilient–whether it’s focus on their inner self, the physical self around health or wellbeing or the sense of community.

HRE: Flexibility has become key to how employers support working parents today; do you believe this will stick after the pandemic?

Ho: I think so. We use the word flexibility, but we also use personalization. The work that we do is not necessarily governed by a set number of hours. Some jobs are, but with a lot of jobs in the tech industry, you can flex those hours based on output. I love the notion that people are starting to define productivity very differently. The hours [worked] are less important now. We’re really focused on what sort of output you have, your ability to contribute to the company vision and mission. If you change the definition of productivity, you give people naturally more flexibility and the ability to personalize.

HRE: How do you think the pandemic will impact how employers recruit and retain working parents, in the long-term?

Ho: I do believe Zoom is the great equalizer. In the past, people felt like they had to fly into the office, build relationships, fly in to meet with C staff across various locations; that’s a huge burden on working families or people with other dependents they need to care for. And with Zoom, you can accomplish so much without having to travel, and it allows people to make connections they’ve not been able to make. That in itself was a big, big win. In terms of hiring and recruiting, we’ve started to think about where do we hire? What is our global strategy in terms of location and hiring? We had, in the past, really centered on where our locations are, and as we start to think about a distributed workforce, are we going to continue to have more people working remotely and what do those roles look like? When we start to expand into different locations, we can attract different candidates we hadn’t been able to attract before, either because of the location or because the job required more travel than they were able to commit to. There are many things about the pandemic that are terrible but there is a silver lining: It’s making the employer-employee relationship quite different, and it allows the employer to think very differently and broadly about the candidates out there who could be a really great fit.

See also: The childcare crisis is here. What are you doing about it? 

Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.