This is a story about a cute video that went viral. You might have already seen or shared it.
But, it also contains an important warning of a massive problem that most businesses will face in about 60 days. Unfortunately, it seems very few are prepared.
The video shows what happened when an assistant professor of global health, Clare Wenham, tried to do a live interview with BBC News in the United Kingdom.
Like many of us, Wenham is working from home now, and taking care of children. So, television viewers got an unexpected extra show: they were treated to Wenham’s young daughter in the background, trying to post a picture of a unicorn on a shelf.
The girl’s antics grew more distracting (but adorable). It was all very endearing.
But, it’s also an indiciation of a big problem on the horizon.
Many businesses have expanded remote work policies and accommodated working parents to an extent that would have seemed like a dream only six months ago, but they did so assuming, with good reason, that many of the changes would be at least partially only temporary.
Kids would go back to school. Child care arrangements, as unsatisfying and inefficient as they might have been, would return. Even those employees who preferred to continue to work largely at home would fall into a predictable routine.
In fact, some employers are already cutting back on the support they offer working parents in preparation. This week, Florida State University announced it would reinstate rules preventing parents from caring for children why they work remotely.
But, with resurgence of the coronavirus, there are now flashing red warning signs that this “return to a new normal” might not happen on schedule.
The biggest issue has to do with the reopening of schools.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging school districts to host in-person education as much as feasible. But what that looks like in practice is all over the map.
We’re still close to 60 days out, but in at least some districts, schools that are planning to reopen, nevertheless plan to practice social distancing by having kids attend school in person during some days, but not others.
Even districts that are pushing right now for full-time instruction are questioning whether there will be as many before and after-school options, or whether sports and other activities will go forward.
The end result? A massive number of school kids spending much more time at home than they otherwise would — and parents scrambling to figure out how to care for them.
In other words, the situation we hoped would be temporary suddenly seems a little less temporary.
Look, this is likely to be the beginning of a very important conversation. Something will have to give, and as a society, we’re about to be faced with a situation in which we can’t ignore the issue any longer.
But within that crisis, there’s an opportunity — something your business can do right now to gain a big advantage.
Because by and large, working parents are in the prime of their careers. They’re the kinds of top employees that you find yourself scrambling to get. So, if you can accommodate their needs for flexibility and childcare more effectively than your competitors, you could wind up with a major recruiting and retention advantage.
All other things being equal, a working parent faced with a choice between an employer that respects his or her needs as a caregiver, and one that doesn’t, has a very clear choice.
The answers for your business aren’t always going to be easy and obvious.
But if you can build a deep acceptance of employees’ responsibilities as parents into your culture and work to find creative solutions — flexibility on the times that work is done, for example, and a level of patience when plans have to change to accommodate the needs of their kids — the long-term dividends could turn out to be enormous.