How do you support your team when their physical office is the kitchen table and they are juggling work, kids, school and partners? Award-winning business leaders offer advice and practices for right now.
Women’s future in the workplace has always been at risk due to the burden of household and childcare responsibilities. Even before Covid-19 hit, the winners of the Bpeace Women Forward awards were building remote teams, creating flexible work environments, and developing tools and models to embrace the needs of their employees.
As the world of work still struggles with huge disruptions, these trailblazing business leaders and organizations offer proven pathways to supporting women and all team members during the pandemic and beyond.
1 in 4 women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable less than a year ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce. This crisis also represents an opportunity. If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace — and there are signs that this is starting to happen — they can retain the employees most impacted by today’s crises and create more opportunities for women to succeed in the long term. McKinsey & Company, 2020 Women in the Workplace.
1. Bring your authentic self to work
As the leader, share your own efforts to balance work and home with your team. Studies show that when you share your realities of juggling work/home with your team, you make it safe for others to be themselves at work.
Hensley Evans, principal at ZS Associates, does this by sharing her personal calendar with the entire organization, which shows her scheduling time for a morning run, dropping her daughter at soccer practice and including time for a family dinner. She notes that “I don’t always find the right balance, and I believe that if I only share the successes, I may make it harder for other men and women to believe that they can pursue leadership roles and have a family and personal life.”
In addition, Evans suggests it is especially important to reach out to team members regularly to see how they are coping and offer to adjust their work schedule, temporarily move to a less demanding role or schedule parental leave when necessary. It’s all about transparency and ongoing dialogue.
Many companies have made employee mental health and well-being a much higher priority in the face of this crisis. It’s a positive cycle: The more employees can bring their whole selves to work, the more the workplace will work for them and everyone. McKinsey & Company, 2020 Women in the Workplace
2. Build the infrastructure to support remote workers
The right tools and structure are the key to success. Establish clear procedures for working from home and provide your employees with the necessary equipment and apps so they can support each other.
Alexis Priddy, founder of YellowWebMonkey, relies on technology and trust to support her team who work remotely across multiple time zones with flexible hours. In addition to leveraging Google Docs, Slack and Zendesk, they rely on organizing and codifying their procedures as well as creating a knowledge base so the whole team can benefit whenever one of them acquires a new skill.
As for trust, Priddy says, “We all seamlessly cover for one another, so anyone can take the kids to the park or accompany a parent to a doctor’s visit. We know that if a team member says a task will get done, it gets done, no questions asked.”
When you think about providing structure for your team, don’t forget to build in a little fun. Recently Priddy introduced a weekly Pictionary game using Zoom and https://skribbl.io/ as a team-building and stress relief activity.
3. Value impact over face time
Where and how one works should not matter if the outcome is the same. The new reality of working from home demonstrates that an office is not always necessary or conducive to being productive. Post-Covid, many people will continue to work from home while others will welcome the return to the office and a routine which separates the two.
Matt Cooper, CEO of Skillshare, notes, “Pre-Covid, about 30% of our team worked outside of our New York office. So when we find a talented engineer who needs to work from home for personal or family reasons, that’s no problem. Now that all of us are working remotely, we surveyed the team to get their preference for or against the post-Covid working model. We’ve decided to take the entire company virtual. Even those of us previously in the office have found the shift to remote is a benefit overall.”
Without both immediate and long-term action to shore up the childcare infrastructure and establish more progressive work-family policies, the United States cannot achieve continued economic growth nor protect and advance gender equity. This will have a significant negative effect on women’s employment and labor force participation rates, which will in turn have a negative effect not only on both current and future earnings but also on retirement security and gender equity in workplaces and homes. Center for American Progress Report: How Covid-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backwards, October 30, 2020
4. Be the example
Benefits don’t have any value if no one uses them. When you are seen taking advantage of policies like flexible/remote work schedules, maternity/paternity leave and vacation time, it makes it OK for your team, both men and women, to do the same without repercussions.
Dr. Angela Reddix, founder of ARDX, says, “As the owner of my own business, I felt that meant the lights had to be on all the time. But that’s not a good look for the young women in my company. So I had to model what it takes to be successful. I had to leave the office at a reasonable hour, go on vacation and actually be on vacation. I had to demonstrate the balance.”
Read more advice from the change leaders. Find additional practices for successfully navigating barriers and biases in business as well as society from these books: Women Forward: The 2020 Playbook and Mentoring Women Forward: The 2019 Playbook.