COVID-19 poses extraordinary challenges for working parents. Not only are they tasked with working through the crisis, but they also need to balance their job with family time, homeschooling, domestic responsibilities, and managing their own mental health.

To support your team while social distancing, here are some ways you can help:

Allow Scheduling Flexibility 

Parents need to have flexibility so they can address urgent circumstances at home that could interfere with their normal working schedule. If an employee is late to a meeting because he had to feed his child, for example, don’t penalize him for it or draw attention to minor tardiness. Now more than ever, it’s important to give your employees the benefit of the doubt and try to be understanding.

When possible, it’s also smart to let your employees make up any hours they miss during the day and give them the option to break up their schedule into two-hour blocks. This flexibility can help them avoid multitasking, which wastes time and energy in the long run. Some studies show it takes the average person about 25 minutes to return to a task after an interruption, and the quality of their work will also suffer.

Trusting your employees to structure their own hours will reinforce a healthy workplace culture and increase your employee’s motivation.

Help Employees Decompress 

Mental health professionals warn about the “slow motion disaster” sweeping the country alongside the COVID-19 pandemic: post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Calls to help hotlines have spiked to an all-time high, and as isolation continues, counseling will probably grow in demand.

It’s critical for business leaders to help employees cope, and they can do so by taking extra measures to demonstrate compassion and support. For example, encourage employees to socialize from home with a virtual happy hour or coffee break. Host a group HIIT fitness class, or invite colleagues for a mid-morning Vinyasa flow. A robust body of research shows exercise can improve emotional resilience, manage stress, improve mood and cognitive function, and increase productivity. To enable parents to attend, let employees invite their children and household members to join your company-hosted social events.

Talk With Your Team 

Set up regular meetings at least once a week so you can talk with your team members and learn how they’re doing. Ask if they’re having trouble balancing responsibilities and if there’s anything you can do to help. Show that you’re sensitive to their situation and want to work together to find a solution that allows them to perform to the best of their abilities, given the current circumstances.  

Because this is an unusual topic to discuss with a boss or manager, it’s your responsibility to help your employees feel safe enough to talk honestly about their limitations. If you can keep the conversation direct and realistic, you stand a better chance of finding a solution together. 

Consider the following talking points when you meet with your team members one-on-one:  

  • Which days and hours throughout the week they’re available to work, with the understanding this could change. 
  • Prioritize assignments at work with a 1-3 rating so employees know which issues are essential versus relatively expendable. 
  • How you can reach the employee if a time-sensitive issue arises and needs an immediate response.

Honor Requests for Time Off 

Situations will inevitably come up that require parents to take time off from work to care for their family. When this happens, try to accommodate their requests whenever possible. If employees accrue time off throughout the year, consider making exceptions to the standard.  

If you change your attendance policies, notify all your employees in writing so they understand what options are available to them and how long these policy changes will stay in effect.