During the depths of the pandemic, business owners had to get creative about keeping their best employees–especially moms, who were more likely to have to quit their jobs to care for school-age kids and sick family members. Now, with a light at the end of the tunnel, many entrepreneurs have no desire to go back to 2019.
Their pandemic-era strategies, devised to help hold onto parents, are helping them retain valued employees, recruit talent, and often, work more efficiently. Here are the parent-friendly strategies that entrepreneurs are employing for the long haul:
1. Keep working from home, mostly
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had lasting effects on attitudes about remote work. While only 13 percent of companies say they’re giving up their offices for good, only 17 percent plan to go back to the office full-time. And a number of entrepreneurs say this sort of flexibility is exactly what working parents need.
Gita Bhargava, the co-founder of outsourced HR and payroll services provider Global Upside, always thought the best way to bring new employees up to speed was to have them sit next to her. However, that’s not always practical. Her company has 500 employees in 170 countries, each with its own complex legal and regulatory requirements.
“The pandemic has opened my eyes,” she says. “I have changed my mind completely.” She used to think it was difficult to hire people with the experience she needs; now, she hires for fit–regardless of location–and trains new hires to do the work. “You can be working anywhere in the world,” she says. “And if you are working at home, I will be calling you to tell you not to burn the candle at both ends. The sky will not fall because you didn’t answer your email today.”
At Upside, an 85-person corporate travel company, the onset of the pandemic coincided with the expiration of the company’s lease. (Travel company Upside is unrelated to HR company Global Upside.) Its CEO, Scott Case, who was also the founding CTO of Priceline.com, decided the company would go fully-remote, for good. Aside from the real estate savings, he wanted to give the parents on staff a bit of certainty at a particularly uncertain time. Those with families far away could move closer to them to get childcare support, without having to worry that they’d lose their jobs once it was safe to go back to the office. A handful of people, says Case, left the company, saying they counted on having some social interaction at work. Case says he’ll get the staff together, maybe once a quarter, when it’s safe to do so. “We could have a really great party with the money we’ll save on real estate.”
Talia Goldstein, the founder and president of matchmaking service Three Day Rule, ran a fully remote company before the pandemic. Her matchmakers never would have been in the office anyway, since their job was to meet potential matches for their clients.
Now those same interviews are conducted via video, and Goldstein says her company is never going back. Her team saves on travel time this way, she says, but that’s not even the biggest advantage. In interviews, matchmakers are asking people about their dating history, their family life, and other personal topics. Now, they’re finding those conversations are flowing more easily. “Maybe people were a bit nervous because at a coffee shop, there are people around them,” she says. “They are much more comfortable divulging information on video. That part is so much better.”
2. Stay flexible with schedules and time on the job.
For many families whose school-age kids are suddenly at home, 9 to 5 is no longer the peak productive time for work. StrongSuit, a 15-person company that provides families with a tech-enabled chief of staff, already had a customer service team that was fully remote. But in the spring of 2020, those employees started asking for various changes in their working hours. When plan B didn’t work either, employees would ask for yet another schedule–and likely, yet another change after that. Founder Lindsey Michaelides realized her staff needed total flexibility, even though her customers were accustomed to near-instantaneous response times.
Michaelides started by trying to reset customer expectations, letting them know that any message not marked “urgent” might have a 24-hour turnaround time. As a company that was started to support parents, she explained, they needed to make this change to support the parents on their own staff. “The customers were amazing,” says Michaelides. “We got applause.” It’s a relief for the employees, too, says Michaelides: “It gives them total control.”
In some cases, even total control wasn’t enough. StrongSuit has allowed its employees to reduce the overall number of hours they work, if necessary. Customer service staff were supposed to commit to at least 30 hours a week; now, some work just 15 hours a week.
3. Work smarter, with batch processing and asynchronous communication.
Colugo, an 11-person Philadelphia-based company that makes baby gear, also found they had to offer flexible hours so their employees–eight of whom have young kids at home–could try to deal with both parenting and work. But they also realized they needed to work smarter. One answer: Batch processing. If a customer needed a refund, a team member used to see that request in Slack and respond right away. Questions about inventory were handled similarly.
But co-founder Christy MacGregor realized the inventory and refund requests weren’t actually urgent. So why not handle them all at once? “A lot of this can be batch-processed more efficiently,” she says. Now the person working on the last shift of the day will do all the inventory work in one go. Refunds get handled similarly. “The pandemic has forced us to become more efficient and find better ways to work,” says MacGregor. “We definitely want to continue that.”
4. Limit meetings.
Employees who need maximum flexibility often find that meetings are the bane of their existence–or at least of their calendars. So Strongsuit’s Michaelides is on a quest to get rid of as many meetings as she can. The company’s daily standup now takes place on Slack. Instead of asking everyone to dial in at the same time, every day, a slackbot programmed by one of the company’s developers walks them through a series of questions: How are you showing up today? What are your top three priorities? What are your needs of your teammates? What are you grateful for today?
All-hands meetings went from weekly to biweekly to quarterly. Team meetings, which used to take place weekly, are now every-other-week. “Do we need the all hands meetings?” Michaelides wonders. “Or can we keep up the cultural health of the organization if we move it to Slack?”
5. Support mental health days.
A few founders said they are reinforcing the idea of mental health days. Even with so-called unlimited vacation, they say, employees are reluctant to take time off. So they’re assigning everyone mental health days, often once a quarter, on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. All staffers are expected to take them, which helps remove some of the stigma that employees might feel if they’re perceived to be struggling. “How do I have a conversation where I can say, look, you’ve had a lot of crazy sh*t going on, maybe you need to take a day,” says Upside’s Case. The goal of the quarterly mental health day, he says, “is to help normalize that conversation.”