1. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS AND LISTEN
Understanding your team’s set-up, support networks and coping strategies for this period is incredibly important. Every person’s situation will be different. Finding out as much as you can about their family situation is the best way for you to offer the right level of support as their manager and to manage your expectations of them.
Ask questions about who is in the house and their children’s needs. Demands on parents will be different depending on the ages of their kids, but there may also be some additional considerations that you need to be aware of, like children with learning disabilities or illnesses.
2. RE-THINK STANDARD WORKING HOURS
Normal working hours may prove hard for those with children at home, so re-thinking this and agreeing what their working day will look like now may be a better solution.
Ask your colleague to block out the time in their diary so that you can clearly see when they are looking after their kids. If they can plan their week ahead and share their available time with the team, even better, but bear in mind that things may change, and flexibility will be needed.
If there is a certain deadline looming, and you need the colleague to input into delivering a piece of work, it might be that you ask your colleague to take some time in the evening or early morning to do the work uninterrupted. Asking them to shift their working pattern to gain uninterrupted time is not unreasonable, however it is important that they have adequate rest and recuperation, and this is not a regular ask. Talk to them about how they’re feeling and regularly check-in to see how they are coping.
The situation that Covid-19 has brought is extraordinary and unprecedented. Our working routine and family routines have been tipped upside down. Parents are having to help their children make sense of this new environment and quite possibly are dealing with challenging changes in behaviour. For example, some children might be incredibly anxious about the situation with Covid-19; others may be dealing with kids seeking their attention more now they’re in the house all the time. Be mindful of the difference between empathy and sympathy. In general, sympathy is when you share the feelings of another, empathy is when you understand the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them. It’s important to be empathetic to your team’s needs without taking them on.
4. CHECK-IN ON TEAM WELLBEING
It will be easy for parents to put their own needs and self-care at the bottom of the priority list at this time, but in order for them to be effective and be at their best for the business and their families, getting regular exercise, eating well and taking time out to properly rest and recuperate has never been so important. Lead by example and make sure you are encouraging good working practices.
5. REASSESS PRIORITIES REGULARLY
It is inevitable that productivity will not be the same for those working from home with kids. Help them to prioritise their work and focus on their critical to do list.
As their manager it is your role to support them. Discuss their current list of actions and agree the priorities. Review deadlines and identify which can be extended and, in the current operating context, which can be paused.
Work with them on a revised working week plan that builds in regular family time and allows them to feel in control of their work and their wellbeing. Suggest they use a weekly planner to help them block out some time for them.
6. RE-THINK YOUR CONFERENCE CALLS
Whilst the use of video calls at this time can help conversations flow more naturally, this might be more difficult with kids. Going audio only means the chance to move around or take a call from the garden whilst the kids play.
Also, try and keep calls as short as possible and don’t book them in back to back – most parents will need intervals to check on or entertain kids between calls.
Finally, expect interruptions! Children are inquisitive by nature and are going to want to come and look at the person on the screen! How you react to that as a manager can make a colleague feel more or less comfortable.
7. FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
Many of our colleagues who find themselves in this situation are new to it. The need to be flexible and understanding if meetings are moved or there’s noise in the background is very important right now.
Many people will be feeling anxious during these uncertain times and the added stress of home-schooling, and work priorities may well see colleagues overwhelmed – talking through your feelings can help. As a manager, you may find that providing additional support and listening to your team members’ concerns begins to have an impact on you. Remember, just as you are there to support your team, your manager is there for you. If you do have concerns about a member of your team, discuss them with your manager and talk through how you can best support them.