Life hasn’t returned to normal since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demands of parenting keep shifting during these complicated times. Supporting students who are returning to school requires a bit of adjustment, especially when added to balancing an already demanding professional life. Here’s a look at how some Robert Half employees are managing this challenging task:
“Oh, wow, where do I begin?” asked Marisa Ellis, regional manager and 15-year veteran at Robert Half, who has two children, Charlotte, 8, and Kennedy, 4. “Now, that the children have returned to school, my husband and I stagger drop-offs and pick-ups. Clubs and after-school activities have been eliminated, so we figure out in advance which meetings to attend or skip, and find activities that each child can do between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. We are definitely surviving, but it doesn’t always feel like thriving.”
Nina Moore, product manager for digital workplace CONNECT management, has four children. Marina, 13, Sarah, 10, and her twins Gavin and Aiden, 7, each have different and competing schedules, needs and technology challenges. “We had to upgrade our Wi-Fi with six people working from home,” Moore said. “There were a lot of tears around dropped calls; then the Wi-Fi wouldn’t work with the school laptops – we’re still sorting that out.”
“Everyone was scrambling to figure out what we were doing at first,” said regional manager Jim Jeffers, who’s been with Robert Half for five years and is the father of Aubrey, 7, and Amelia, 4. “Then we had to teach our two girls at home, and my wife and I both work; it was a difficult time for us.”
Planning schedules in advance has become central to those juggling disruptions. District director Megan Slabinski, a 21-year Robert Half employee and mother to Henry, 11, and Carter, 8, agrees. “I use 6 to 7 a.m. to answer emails. I can then block off lunch to help the kids with technical issues, make everyone something to eat and take a short walk to get our bodies moving,” she said. “We also block time for family dinner, games or watching a show together, rather than everyone disappearing to their rooms with their own devices.”
"My day always evolves into something different; however, I try to keep a consistent schedule around work, school and mealtimes," recruiting manager Erica Thomas of Robert Half Technology said. This 6-year employee and mother of three — Lucas, 15, Will, 4, and Rico, 5 months — splits the day and her family responsibilities with her husband to meet her clients' and candidates' needs. "For example, when I schedule interviews, I offer either 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., because I know my husband is available to help or the kids are napping. That gives me more flexibility to do my recruiting, emails, log activities and planning."
Pin Zook, HR program manager and mother of two, Bryce, 7, and Colton, 3, and Muneet Chohan, manager of talent acquisition and mom to 4-and-a-half-year-old twins Zaver and Avani, also find evenings to be productive times for catching up or working on larger projects. "Outside of our daily schedule, I find myself more productive when the kids are in bed," Zook said.
"Once the kids are in bed, I use that time for any work that doesn't require real-time responses," Chohan added. However, she emphasized that with preschool back open and her parents available to help when the kids aren't in school, things are feeling closer to normal.
Creating positive solutions
One small change that’s helped Slabinski has been giving the kids ownership during this challenging time. “We’ve set up an ‘anytime’ snack shelf where they can help themselves without asking; established a chore chart, so they can take on increased family responsibilities; and purchased more puzzles, games and Legos to help mitigate screen time. This has boosted their confidence and mood.”
Regular check-ins are also important.
“We focus on the positives,” pointed out Ellis. “How we’ve worked together that day and what we’ve learned, and we talk daily about kindness.”
“It’s important that the kids know it’s OK to be anxious and uncertain,” Moore said. “How we handle these feelings and situations is what’s important. We try to stay positive and discuss the importance of respect, self-accountability and our emotional well-being. I’m also very happy to be present in their lives and share in their learning, play and the funny incidents that happen during the day.”
“We talk about patience constantly,” echoed Slabinski. “Having patience with yourself, your teachers and your parents. We also acknowledge our sadness: missing friends, activities and the freedom of leaving the house. At dinner, we share our ‘roses and thorns’ from the day. It always surprises me when someone’s ‘rose’ was getting a hug from mom at lunch time — something they don’t get at school.”
“At our house, we take care to address stuff in the moment,” said regional manager John Asdell, father of Roman, 8, and Grace, 4. “Just telling our kids, ‘I know it’s frustrating, I know you want to be with your friends,’ can help them feel better.”
Asdell also shared that locking the office door during a call could send your kids the wrong message. “Now, I sit down and talk to them about my schedule and what kinds of things warrant interrupting a call and what can wait. They also know that I will happily sit down with them after the meeting to give them my full attention.”
Maximizing space at home
Designated workspaces have also helped parents better manage the day. Whether that’s a desk in a spare room or headphones that block noise, knowing that you can communicate with coworkers without distractions relieves pressure.
“We had to get creative,” said Ellis. “We only have one home office, so my husband and I reserve it when we need uninterrupted meeting times. We also had to invent a ‘pop-up’ office close to the kids, so we can help them when they need it.”
"I set up a designated workspace for Bryce and for myself," Zook said. "He's in first grade, so technical issues and logistics can be a problem. If we're close, I can mute my mic during a meeting and quickly help him navigate where he needs to go."
Thomas’ teenage son has his workspace in his room. "He can handle most of his technology issues, and we've set him up with meals and snacks he can prepare on his own," she shared. "I have my workspace in the dining room, so I can be visible to the other kids — which can be chaotic during meal times but then it settles again."
“My son has his desk set up in his room, while his sister is in an old playroom,” Asdell said. “We found it was critical for Roman not to have his little sister interrupting him and for her to have a kindergarten setup, since this was her first year at school.”
“It’s also important to get the kids set up each day for success,” said Slabinski. “Make sure they fill their water bottles and have their pencils, notebooks and school tools accessible, so they aren’t asking for these things all day long.”
Bridging the gap
Communication with colleagues is also essential to achieving success. “I use MS Teams to share when someone will be offline,” Slabinski said. “We’ve also adjusted some board and divisional meetings to accommodate parent/child scheduling conflicts.”
Thomas also utilizes MS Teams. "Our team is very good with communication and letting each other know when we step away," Thomas said. "We keep each other informed of important calls and when we might need coverage help. I wear my wireless headset all day. I like the chat and other alerts, so I don't miss anything important."
“Flexibility is key,” Asdell said. “On my teams, I have single parents and families where both parents are working. I let everyone know to designate priorities, then look at what can be accomplished outside business prime-time hours, so they can also be there for their children.”
"Being transparent with your manager and leadership is really important," Zook said. "Parents around the world are going through similar issues, and we work for a very supportive company. Don't be afraid to speak up. We all need a little help sometimes."
“I feel like I’ve become so much closer to my teams since we have more regular check-ins,” Jeffers said. “People I would see maybe once a month are having more open conversations about successes and challenges. Video conferencing also gives you a peek into everyone’s world that you wouldn’t usually get — cats jumping on the call or dinner burning in the background. It makes things very real.”
Robert Half has also launched several resources specifically for working parents.
The new Parents Portal on Robert Half’s intranet site offers webinars and articles with tips to manage working from home with children, as well as childcare resources, virtual field trips, a kids’ corner with activity ideas, and more. “Vice president of Benefits and Wellbeing Leslie Rife called me one day and said she wanted to provide our working parents with some additional resources,” Zook said. “We brainstormed some ideas, and the Parents Portal was born.”
Zook and Rife also wanted a vehicle for parents to share resources or ask their peers for help, so they launched the Robert Half Parents Network on Teams.
A similar community is the “WonderMoms of RH” Yammer group. "Studies have shown that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted moms," shared Chohan, the group's founder. "This offers a way to share what's working for our families, as well as recipes, resources and stress relief."
“Our company leadership and my immediate managers are very supportive of our needs related to distance learning,” Moore said. “I’m very thankful for the flexibility to balance both my work and family life in a productive and healthy way.”