Company Culture

Parenting in a pandemic is a nightmare. How can workplaces help?

Parent-friendly workplaces are people-friendly workplaces.

Parenting while working remotely.

(Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.


Last week my 18-month-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19.

We haven’t the foggiest idea how she contracted it, since our family is in the exceedingly privileged position that we have effectively been operating in lockdown. She isn’t in daycare; the only other adults she was in contact with tested negative, and my wife and I work from home. Days after her symptoms started, I caught a breakthrough case. Research shows that my symptoms would have been far worse if I hadn’t been vaccinated — and boosted.

Regardless of the severity, our COVID household suddenly had to cancel what childcare we had, and my work responsibilities coincided with the needs of my toddler.

My experience has been worryingly common. Most American parents work — fewer than one in five is a full-time parent — and so about a third of all American professionals are parents. The pandemic has been especially brutal to working parents, who find the unpredictability of COVID quarantines especially complicated. Meanwhile, the American workplace has been especially indifferent to parent issues, which are often coded as women’s issues. Ours is the only rich country without guaranteed paid family leave, and childcare has traditionally been something to remain unspoken.

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Workplaces, then, have both an opportunity and a responsibility to be more supportive of working parents. (Here’s a guide for better supporting parent employees.)

Parent professionals can be creative and productive leaders who must manage time effectively. My own experience this week reminded me of several of the easiest changes to make to be more accommodating for parents.

Remote work helps parents be better professionals.

Having my first child during a pandemic has brought plenty of challenges. It also allowed me to spend more time with my daughter than I ever would have at any previous time in my life. Sneaking in a hug is extra sweet in between work calls. For parents with school-age children, the ability to balance work responsibilities with parenting time is different but no less helpful.

My company is now fully remote but even companies that expect office time can help by recognizing the advantage remote work can help parents. Before the pandemic, we didn’t always get this right for other parent employees, but we did build remote-flexibility into their schedules.

Asynchronous work gives parents flexibility.

Working until 10 p.m. is a problem; working at 10 p.m. isn’t necessarily. Without childcare this week, I spent weekday mornings reading potty books and rearranging blocks and taking stroller walks. Years ago, I remember working late at night because I was overworking. This week, I was reminded that some evening work was a simple trade in exchange for daytime flexibility. What mattered most was my output. That’s how we ought to evaluate all our employees, especially high-performing parent professionals.

Be empathetic to your parent professionals.

Look, this week was not my most effective or productive. I was sick myself, but even if I had remained healthy, balancing parenting with work under the best circumstances is a challenge. Doing so without childcare is impossible. It is reasonable to expect parents to devise a sound childcare strategy, including school pickup, so that they can perform their agreed-upon duties. Performance output is a better metric than time inputs. For all of us, though, a pandemic is something very different. Never has childcare, and school, been so often and irregularly disrupted. It is emotionally draining and logistically insurmountable. If your parent employees are doing their best, be empathetic. They’ll recognize it, and they’ll reward you for it.

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As for my baby daughter the COVID survivor, she proved tough and resilient confronting a nasty virus so young in her life. Fortunately, kids do appear to be faring reasonably well against the Omicron variant, especially. One night, though, she did give me a scare. She was congested enough that I awoke to her wailing at 3 a.m. I went up to get her from her crib, and she was so upset that she was making it even harder for her to breathe. I used a saline solution and a suction tool that is familiar to many parents of young kids. I brought her into the bathroom to steam it with a hot shower.

Then I brought her into a guest bedroom to lay down together. After a harrowing half-hour, she looked up at me, said “dada” and gave me a big smile. In almost two years of lots of sweetness that is probably the most beautiful moment I’ve had with her yet. She’s on the mend now, and the last few nights before I put her into her crib, she insists we lay down together on that guest bedroom bed so she can jump around with a goofy smile.

Parenting is taxing and joyful; it is defining and draining — just like many great jobs. It’s just impossible to be your best work-self and parent-self under these circumstances. That doesn’t mean we can’t do more for each other at work. Parent friendly just means people friendly.

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