While many schools in the metro area had already returned in-person towards the end of the last school year, extracurricular activities, after-school programs and offices were not all back to normal yet. But now, as COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted around the country, many schools and offices are preparing their plans to return to full in-person operations. For families, that means returning to managing a busy schedule. Making that adjustment back to your full schedules can feel overwhelming. Here are some ways that families and businesses can get ready for the transition.
Consider and Address Safety Concerns
Especially for families with kids under 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic levels of activity may be scary. Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health developed some questions that you can ask as you consider what activities your family should resume (the list is focused on returning to school, but the questions can be applied to extracurriculars, as well). As you contemplate what level of activity is right for your family, think about how you can talk to your kids about COVID-19 as they return to schools and activities and make a plan for what your family will do if a member of the household is exposed to COVID-19.
For families with medically complex children, returning to school amid the delta variant can be even scarier. Investigate your child’s entitlements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), through their Individual Education Program (IEP), or a 504 Plan to create an educational program that works to keep your child safe.
Clearly Communicate Schedules and Expectations
It can be easy to get wires crossed about who’s doing what and when, especially once everyone gets back to their hectic family schedules. Having open communication with your family is key to feeling like everyone is staying safe! Communicate with your children in advance of schedule changes. Here are some areas to cover:
- Talk about household expectations for COVID-19 safety, such as wearing a mask during after-school activities or while you are in the office
- Set expectations around when and how long you will be at the office once you return to in-person operations
- Establish rules for children who are old enough to stay home alone
- Discuss after-school options for kids not old enough to stay home alone – will they be attending after-school or a sport or club? Will a babysitter or relative pick them up?
- Review your emergency contacts with your kids
- Discuss when check-ins are expected (both from you and your child) as activities resume – should they notify you when they arrive at an activity or back home? Will you touch base with them or a caregiver during the day?
Spend Time Alone with Each Child
As school is starting, prioritize spending some extra one-on-one time with each child to check in and see how they are feeling about the upcoming changes like returning to extracurriculars and a parent’s return to the office. You can help provide some reassurance as they begin to deal with the stressors of going back to school considering a particularly turbulent last year. If your children are experiencing some stress or anxiety, here are a few ways you can help them cope:
- Keep a clear routine
- Get some fresh air
- Spend more time together
- Practice deep breathing exercises together
- Model kindness and forgiveness (both for yourself and others!)
Check In on Your Own Emotional Needs
This last year has been a stressful time for everyone. Checking in with yourself is important to making sure you can be there fully for your kids! You know the drill – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
Prioritize Workplace Flexibility
Families naturally have different and varying needs. By offering flexible options for your employees, you are making it easier for families to manage their schedules, all while demonstrating that you trust and appreciate your employees. And feeling valued as an employee leads to productive outcomes for your business, such as better health outcomes, fewer sick days and less stress in employees.
Consider Gender Equity in Reintegration Plans
By May 2021, there were 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce than in February 2020. For women across the country, a lack of childcare and a subsequent increase in work-life conflict during the pandemic pushed many of them out of the workforce. Nearly 1 in 10 women report quitting their job due to a COVID-related reason. In fact, of the 1,007 respondents to the Atlanta Regional Commission’s recent Regional Commuter Survey, zero men reported leaving their jobs to take care of children, as compared to 3% of women respondents.
As you evaluate your return to office plans, consider options that will help produce gender equity in your office. Some employers are looking at options and re-evaluating benefits and family leave policy or providing access to childcare for employees:
- Re-Evaluate Your Benefits and Family Leave Policies
- The pandemic has underscored that families have diverse and continuous needs. Part of prioritizing the well-being of your employees means providing good benefits for them and their families. In fact, most Americans (67%) believe that employers should provide some level of paid family and medical leave, despite only 19% of American workers actually receiving it.
- Consider Providing Childcare Options
- For mothers that quit their job during the pandemic, half said that it was because of school or daycare closures, as women are still overwhelmingly responsible for childcare in the home. In fact, on average women spent 6 hours more per week assisting children while working, spending 13.6 hours compared to 7.7 hours for men. For Black women, this number is even higher – 19.8 hours per week compared to 10.3 hours per week for non-Black women. As more organizations return to office settings, many may want to consider childcare options to better support employees. This could include anything from a subsidy for a Care.com subscription for families to find childcare professionals to operating a daycare at your office. Additionally, providing flexible schedule options are key to giving caregivers options when it comes to childcare.
Financial Security for Employees
Providing financial security for employees is a trending topic across the country right now, especially in light of the pandemic’s impact on lower wage earners. In 2020, 1.2 million more children were living in poverty as compared to in 2019. While this worsened due to widespread job losses during the pandemic, even in 2018 nearly 4.5% of families, or 3.6 million families, were working poor. Some organizations are employing strategies to help provide financial security including paying competitive, living wages, striving to employ workers full-time, when possible, and providing benefits for employees and their families.