April 23rd is “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” and 2020’s edition of this holiday is proving to be quite unique
In a recent all-hands meeting updating the team on the status of the company, Convene CEO Ryan Simonetti’s son popped up behind him, peering at the screen. “Wanna come say hi?” Simonetti asked. “Come show everyone your soccer jersey!”
Simonetti’s son, Riley, comes over, shyly clinging to his dad’s shoulder as he continues his presentation.
It’s become a common sight for companies around the country—in the middle of a virtual meeting, kids and family members are making guest appearances. It’s causing a shift in workplace cultures, for both parents and non-parents alike.
“People are psyched to see my kids on Zoom! I hadn’t had the chance to bring them to the office yet before quarantine,” says Erica Campbell, director of marketing communications for Convene. “They’re a huge part of who I am and being able to show that to my colleagues is a big part of getting to know me.”
Campbell’s four-year old daughter, Amelia, and 18-month old son, Farris, are regular guests during marketing team meetings. For Campbell, being able to spend more time with her family has been an unintended bonus of the stay-at-home order.
“I spend my breaks with them, eat breakfast and lunch with them. There’s all these wonderful little moments that you don’t get being in an office every day,” she says. “It’s helped me feel better about both my career and my family life.”
Even non-parents are seeing their attitudes change as virtual meetings offer a glimpse into homes and family life. While previously, people may have felt a pressure to maintain a professional demeanor, the coronavirus pandemic has forced coworkers to be more authentic and patient, both with themselves and their colleagues.
“I love when team member’s kids join our virtual meetings,” says Convene’s head of marketing, Maria Dillon Kemp. “It brings an immediate smile to my face plus all those on the call. I love seeing all the different sides of my colleagues and team members, and virtually ‘meeting’ kids and pets only adds to the bond.”
More than anything, working parents say they appreciate flexibility from their managers and colleagues. It’s all about letting people take care of their needs and trusting them to get their work done. “It’s helpful to have managers that understand the normal 9-to-5 hours may not work for everyone remotely,” says Erica Jackson, manager of legal operations at Sunrise Senior Living. “Employees can do their time, but it may not look like the normal full hours.”
It helps to keep a sense of humor as well, laughing off any embarrassing moments. Kids are going to be kids, even if you’re in the middle of a tense meeting.
“When my three-year old disrupted my presentation during an all company meeting to announce that he had to poop but would wash his hands, I almost lost my mind and my train of thought,” says Convene’s global chief operating and people officer Amy Pooser. “No harm, no foul!”
There are some material ways companies can help out working parents as well. Jackson says having a headset for phone calls and a comfy office chair provided by her company has allowed her to be more productive and drown out any distracting noises.
And don’t discount the power of leading by example. When the CEO or other senior leadership brings their kids onto a virtual meeting or takes time out for family time, it signals to the rest of the company that they don’t need to worry about taking time to tend to their family.
Many parents are now pulling triple duty, keeping up with their jobs, parenting, and becoming homeschool teachers overnight. “It helps to know that my coworkers understand that many of us are trying to now take on homeschooling on top of our regular work,” says Christy Crews Kenyon, meeting and events coordinator for CHIME. “Every day I have emails in my son’s Gmail school account, my personal Gmail account, my daughter’s school account, and then my work email account to go through. It takes a lot of juggling to get through all of it.”
Again, navigating these challenges comes down to communication and flexibility. Being upfront and clear with managers and teams about when you’re available and when you’re not (which may mean working at odd hours) will help set expectations for everyone.
Through it all, it’s important to remember that kids are going through a tough time as well. They miss their friends and routines. Parents are being tasked with more challenges than ever, and a little flexibility and understanding go a long way.
“Before COVID-19, I would feel this pressure to almost pretend like I didn’t have a family when working from home,” says Campbell. “If one of my kids was crying in the background of a call or interrupted, I would feel like it was a big deal. But this crisis has forced us to acknowledge that kids are around and it’s part of who we are, and that’s a really good change.”