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How Law Firms Can Support Employees with Kids at Home this School Year

September 10, 2020

With the most unique and challenging school year in modern history underway, both schools and parents have been faced with tough decisions. Many schools are going totally remote, including school districts in major U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Atlanta, Nashville and Chicago—and the list is only growing. With so many children destined for home-based learning this year, many parents are faced with an unenviable (and some might say, impossible) task: working a 40-hour work week while also caring for children full time.

According to a survey, 73 percent of parents plan to make significant changes to their professional lives due to a lack of child care, and nearly 15 percent of those parents might be forced to leave the workforce altogether. Meanwhile, just 32 percent of companies that are reopening have also created child-care plans for their employees.

Lawyers aren’t exempt from this problem. Countless attorneys with children at home face the push-and-pull of trying to cram in a full week of demanding work while also managing children. Since remote learning is likely the new reality for many school districts, parents everywhere are going to have to figure out how to create this balance for the foreseeable future. Law firms would be wise to guard their talent by structuring support systems for attorneys who may be struggling under the weight of childcare.

At a base level, firms should implement an official (but flexible) work-from-home policy, with the understanding that many employees will have children at home with them during the workday. Laying out a clear policy, with expectations and performance measures, will keep firms running smoothly while giving employees what they need. Evaluations based on performance, regardless of what time of day deliverables are completed or whether children can be heard in the background of conference calls, should be included in the policy.

If firms are serious about helping their employees succeed, they may consider taking their support a step further with small group, on-site childcare. Companies like Cisco are considering offering this as an option to employees with distance-learning children by using their centers as a place where students in first through seventh grades can execute their studies under the guidance of teachers, offering relief to working parents. If on-site childcare isn’t feasible, firms can also opt to subsidize private childcare by helping parents pay for a nanny or other caregiver.

Finally, firms should check in often with employees, and keep the lines of communication open. What’s working for parents today might not work two months from now, so keeping tabs on the pulse of the organization is critical.