This article is a part of The Human-Centered Work Project, a hub of research-based insights and resources on redesigning work. The following insights come from research exploring what remote work looks like today as homes have become offices and classrooms to uncover what actions can improve the precarious work and life balance for caregivers working from home.

From the stress of ongoing remote work and at-home learning to the negative effects of social isolation, we are all facing unique and persistent challenges. Businesses have responded and are continuing to adapt in a variety of ways to support their employees. Some are getting it right. Many are falling short.

We’ve shared our findings for how businesses can help their employees, especially caregivers and parents, in this new all-remote lifestyle. These steps are the baseline of what businesses need to implement to help their teams survive in times of stress and uncertainty. But these challenges are ongoing and we aren’t heading back to normal yet.

If you’ve already implemented these solutions and want to go a step further, today we’re sharing what we believe are the next steps in the process of creating environments that work for caregivers. These might be challenging or uncommon in some industries, but these next actions help increase certainty, autonomy, and equity amongst caregiving employees.

Creating the future of work requires meaningful changes to how we think about work and life and the relationship between employees and employers. The following steps address the deeper needs for autonomy and certainty required to do great work.

How can employers go the extra mile for caregiving employees?

We spoke with 12 employee caregivers and 6 employers about their remote work experiences. We included a broad range of caregivers, including parents, those caring for the sick and elderly, and also those actively engaged in self-care and community care work. While our participants called out a number of steps their companies were taking that helped them feel supported, we also asked for their opinion on a number of possible interventions they might value more.

Take your employee support to the next level with the following steps:

Prioritize transparency to build trust
Prevent burnout by encouraging time off
Support parents with childcare stipends and virtual tutors
Build in stability with job protection and paid leave
Make tech and office equipment stipends as flexible as possible
Don’t normalize overwork
Implement innovative ways to manage workloads

Prioritize transparency to build trust

In our last article, we talked about the power of acknowledging the burden on employees and responding with empathy. Beyond this acknowledgement and communication, prioritize transparency with your teams. Every workplace is different, but be as transparent as you’re able to be about organizational changes, what you’re planning to do and implement, and how you’re responding to the current situation. 

If you’re in an industry that’s really suffering, communicate with your employees about business health. One participant shared that her company hadn’t addressed layoffs directly, leaving everyone feeling nervous and on edge about their job security. Being as transparent as you can be about these things helps prioritize employee comfort and stability during uncertain times.

Prevent burnout by encouraging time off

Employee burnout is a significant problem while we’re all working from home and working over longer periods of time. In addition to supporting employees with flexible time and agency during the day, encourage your team to take time off or even increase the amount of PTO available to employees during this time. One participant also suggested company wide shutdowns on certain days to prevent the stress of missing messages or meetings and the pressure to respond or check in during a day off.

Support parents with childcare stipends and virtual tutors

Balancing work with at-home learning was a universal challenge for our participants. Consider offering stipends or discounts on childcare or virtual tutors to help employees with distance learning responsibilities. Finding trusted, reliable caregiving providers during the pandemic is extremely difficult, but relieving some of the financial burden can make a big difference. Many parents of school-aged children we spoke with loved the idea of virtual tutors as they often struggled to oversee their kids’ schoolwork, online meetings, and overall progress. Many were also worried about bringing external help into the home during the pandemic. Direct support for families lightens the load in significant ways for parents!

Build in stability with job protection and paid leave

The pandemic has caused parents across the country to re-evaluate their day to day. A recent study by McKinsey showed that more than 1 in 4 women planned to downshift their careers or leave the workforce entirely due to the pandemic. Paid leave, job protection, and the childcare stipends we discussed above help provide fairness to women who often end up doing this unpaid work.

As a business, consider offering paid leave or job protection for employees whose caregiving needs may be more complex. The stress of potentially losing one’s job layered with the pandemic and the pressures of caregiving was very intense for many of our participants. Creating stability and offering a range of options can provide your team some peace and take some stress off these difficult, life-altering decisions.

Make tech and office equipment stipends as flexible as possible

Ensure you’re supplying your teams with the tech they need to do their best work, whether that’s faster internet or ergonomic workstations. Many companies have responded with tech stipends of various amounts, allowing employees to purchase and expense monitors, desks, keyboards, internet upgrades, etc. This is critical for all employees, not just caregivers, but parents, for example, who may have unique needs for their tech setups. 

Many participants shared with us the impact of tech in helping them manage their schedules from setting up a smart home enabling kids to do more on their own to using electronic paperwork systems to setting up cameras throughout the house to monitor their children easily while working. Others said they had to upgrade their kids’ laptops for school purposes or their internet to manage the new load of everyone in the family working and learning from home.

Keep your tech stipend flexible and open to give employees the autonomy and ability to expense what is most helpful to their unique situation. Unnecessary rules around what they can purchase can limit your teams from getting the help they need. 

Don’t normalize overwork 

Many of our participants felt their workloads had increased during the pandemic. And even if they hadn’t increased, they were thinking about work much more than they previously did. Several employees had to spread their work out across a longer period of time to balance caregiving responsibilities, starting earlier in the mornings, finishing late at night, and catching up on weekends.

Many full-time caregivers we spoke with struggled to maintain job performance, but feared negative outcomes from their decrease in productivity. As a company, create growth goals that intentionally don’t normalize overwork, make sure your managers and company policies align with this, and give team members the flexibility and autonomy to build time schedules that work for them.

Implement innovative ways to manage workloads

Changing how we work requires innovative and out-of-the-box thinking. Consider how your company might be able to shift the standard thinking about work weeks and workloads to support your employees during this time. There are a number of ways to restructure time and workload to help your teams. There have been a number of studies recently about the benefits of the 4 day work-week and the actual number of hours we can produce creative work each day.

Every workplace has unique circumstances and shortening hours or restructuring time in this way may be challenging. Some companies might opt for 4 day workweeks with 10 hour days, or even just unlinking hours from results, to keep the focus on the work being produced rather than the amount of time someone is “logged on.”

Several of our participants expressed that a reduction to a 32-hour work-week would help them immensely. However, some worried performance would be evaluated against others without caregiving responsibilities. Make sure you shorten hours across the board, and if you reduce hours, also reduce workload. Some participants worried they would still have the same amount of work to complete, especially those who were already working overtime.

Talk with your HR and People & Culture teams to understand what is feasible for your company. Ask your team members what might be most helpful and start the conversation around productivity, workload, and time innovations.

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Every workplace has unique circumstances and considerations. As with everything, we recommend asking employees for feedback on what kinds of policies or benefits would be most impactful for them and their workloads.

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About the authors:

 
Emily Burton, Senior UX Researcher
Learn more about Emily.
 
Nicholena Patel, Senior UX Researcher
Learn more about Nicholena.
 

The Human-Centered Work Project Resources

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Responsiveness Playbook
Guidance for communication, availability, and responsiveness to improve the remote work experiences for all employees.
 
Research Discussion Guides

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Flex Time Program

A framework to give employees more flexibility and autonomy over when they work to help balance work, life, and caregiving needs

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