How to Manage Back to School and Working from Home

 

While some Canadian kids are going back to school, many parents are still at home, with their cursor poised on the “order” button for that new ergonomic chair.

When the pandemic first struck, millions of Canadian workers found themselves setting up makeshift home offices without even a coffee shop or work hub to retreat to. Organizations responded with makeshift solutions. Video and conferencing calls exploded.

But what seemed temporary has now become routine. Six months later, many of the changes to ordinary working life post-COVID-19 don’t look like they’ll be going away any time soon. In fact, an August 2020 IDC Top Executive Survey found that 59 percent of Canadian organizations expect remote work policy changes to be permanent1.

With the school year already off to a staggered start unlike any other year before, it’s time to look at new challenges facing workers. How can IT managers and business leaders continue to support their teams?

 

Reopening spells confusion for some parents

Across the country, schools have put into place measures like additional cleaning and hygiene, class groupings (where a number of students can be within two metres of each other), and daily self-screening. Social distancing rules vary from province to province. In some provinces, masks are mandatory for grades 4-12, and in many provinces, the return will be to a full-time classroom.

In Alberta, for example, desks will be separated by at least two metres or arranged so students aren’t facing each other. Activities such as in-person singing, cheering or shouting, or playing wind instruments will be postponed. In addition, the provincial government is providing all staff and students with two reusable masks by the Alberta government. Single-use masks will also be available in the schools.

Yet not all kids are going back to school which creates a dichotomy of circumstances for many parents. Workplaces need to take this into consideration for their staff who happen to be school-aged children’s parents.

If children are back in school, parents working from home can look forward to fewer family interruptions and a more peaceful work environment. The return to school is also a sign of normalcy and a cause for less stress among those worrying about whether their kids are getting a proper education and socialization time with classmates. On the other hand, parents are concerned that their children might get sick. According to a mid-August online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, 66 percent of parents are worried about sending their kids back to school.

Many parents were already feeling a little squirrelly. In April of this year, an Angus Reid Institute study found that half of Canadians reported a worsening of their mental health, with 24 percent reporting that they were struggling. In July, Morneau Shepell’s monthly Mental Health Index™ found that the level of mental health support an employer provides to employees is impacting Canadians’ mental wellbeing.

 

What’s inside a remote worker’s toolkit?

At the beginning of the pandemic, employers had little time to prepare for a workforce that suddenly went remote. The most immediate challenges were to get employees up and running at home. There were growing pains as schedules were turned upside-down, and new modes of communication had to be established.

As kids return to a semblance of normalcy and many parents remain homebound, employers have a new set of challenges to face when it comes to supporting its workforce. HR and IT managers must ensure remote staff have access to a high-performing virtual office.

For starters, a dedicated, high-speed internet connection will increase team output by avoiding unwanted interruptions or the need for employees to compete for bandwidth with family members. This will also enable continuous collaboration when work-from-home employees use voice and video applications. 

Another way is to ensure you have collaboration and communications tools that improve productivity and provide more seamless experiences for remote workers. This isn’t a new concept, according to Frost & Sullivan’s 2019 Forecast to 2024 on Growth Opportunities in North America, “UC [or Unified Communications] services is expected to maintain double-digit growth rates over the next five years” and that was before the pandemic became a reality.

Organizations across all sectors are increasingly looking to access a broader suite of communication and collaboration tools so they can better support remote workers, provide a more consistent user experience on any device, and be more agile and innovative in the face of heightened competition and technological change.

 

Supporting employee mental health during COVID-19

Employers can also continue to provide, and seek, new ways of implementing flexible schedules for their workers. Parents working from home with kids staying home will need time to help them manage online school activities. Parents working from home with kids at school will need time for pick-ups and drop-offs, but also face more time alone during the day.

Social isolation from one’s peers is a concern for many remote workers. Anything that an employer can do in the way of bringing workers together—whether through weekly video calls or by organizing a group chat for employees to share tips on handling the new normal—can help create a more stress-free work environment.

Technology solutions will continue to reinforce the new normal of stay-at-home workers. While employers stay on top of these innovations, they can also take steps to help their staff balance work, family, and sanity. Remote workers can make use of Bell Let’s Talk Hub that lists specific COVID-19 resources to support both children and adults with tips for managing mental health including anxiety and stress. To learn more and get access to these resources, please go to the Bell Let’s Talk COVID-19 Tips and Resources page.

 

1 IDC Survey: Canadian Top Executive Study, 2020 — Shifting Priorities During a Pandemic, Doc # CA45677320, August 2020

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