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The unique needs of remote workers with children

Last Modified: 5/19/2020

work kids

This post was written by Brandon T. McDaniel, PhD, research scientist, Parkview Research Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses to ask most, if not all, of their employees to work remotely. Simultaneously, the needs of individuals and families have shifted.

Some of the largest shifts for families include, but are not limited to:

  • Children being home from school
  • Parents having to manage their children’s E-learning (and the amount of assistance and guidance provided by schools varies, often with those in lower income homes having to do the majority of their children’s instruction [1])
  • Infants, toddlers and preschoolers being home from childcare/daycare
  • For some families, multiple members of the family having to juggle remote work, E-learning or other demands simultaneously. Some of these families have to also juggle everyone needing to use the same device for all these things at the same time!
  • Feelings of social isolation
  • An increase in parent anxiety and distress [2]–[4]
  • An increase in child anxiety and behavior issues [3]

While employers are experiencing their own forms of stress and demand, they also know their industry and co-workers well, thus they are best equipped to make decisions based on the needs of both. Employers can play a role in decreasing stress levels for families, or at least not further exacerbating stress levels, which can lead to better productivity for the business.

Children and families thrive when their relationships are strong and secure

Especially in times of stress and upheaval to routines, such as the current pandemic, children need to feel secure in their relationship with their parent, guardian or caregiver (hereafter referred to as parent). Generally, this security is fostered by children having a parent who is sensitive to their needs [5], which includes:

  • Awareness – the parent is available enough to see, hear or understand that the child has a need
  • Interpretation – the parent must have the ability to correctly understand what the child’s need truly is
  • Contingency – the parent responds in a timely manner to address the need before the need has passed
  • Appropriateness – the parent responds in a way that matches what the child needs and the child’s development level/age.

Unfortunately, remote work can impact all of these aspects of parent sensitivity and parent-child relationships, especially since children are at home now and often have no one else to care for them except for their remote-working parent.

This juggling of remote work and children can produce what is termed technoference, or interruptions and intrusions of device use in face-to-face interactions [6], [7], and research on this multi-tasking has shown negative impacts on family relationships and child behavior [7]–[11]. This is likely because it decreases the quality and synchrony of family interactions, causes conflict, and can negatively impact all aspects of sensitivity [12]. For example, a parent who is distracted by technology “might be less aware of their child’s cues and needs, less accurate in their interpretation of their needs, delayed in their responses (less contingent), less appropriate in their response, or all of the above” [12].

This work-family conflict (trying to juggle work responsibilities and childcare) can also wear on remote employees, producing feelings of guilt, role overload, burnout, decreased productivity and more [13]–[16].

What can employers do about this work-family conflict and technoference?

While employers aren’t in the home with their employees, there are some things they can do to support these team members, including:

  1. Communicate their understanding of the difficulties that parents are experiencing

It’s important that employees understand that their boss or manager is aware of their concerns and current struggles. The employer should not act like they completely understand everything they are going through, but they should communicate that they feel for them and are going to do their best to work with them. This approach can go a long way.

  1. Communicate clear expectations for remote work

If clear expectations have not been established, then individuals are bound to not meet their employer’s expectations! Some ideas to think about (although I’m sure there are more):

  • Establish how the employer will regularly communicate expectations, needs and responsibilities
  • Conduct regular expected check-ins (e.g., start each workday with a team chat, regular check-ins with individual employees to see how they are doing with managing work and childcare simultaneously, etc.)
  • Communicate how often employees should send updates on progress, etc.
  • Communicate how and when employees should contact supervisors during remote work
  • Communicate expectations for availability during employees’ established schedules

Here is a link to more great tips for managing remote workers.

  1. Be flexible, as necessary, with individual employees and work schedules

Employers should communicate with individual employees regarding their work schedules and collaboratively decide on what their schedule will be. A schedule that better fits their current family demands will have more positive outcomes for both the employer and the employee [17].

Here are a few examples:

  • An employee with a young child may need a schedule that has multiple 15-minute breaks as well as larger breaks built in throughout the day so that the employee can play and interact with their young child.
  • An employee with a child who has E-learning for school may need their workday to begin at 10 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. in order for them to have two or three hours in the morning to directly assist their child in their E-learning.
  • An employee may need to split their day into blocks such as 8 ─ 11 a.m., 1 ─ 4 p.m., and 8 ─10 p.m. in order to have focused family times (e.g., 11 a.m. ─ 1 p.m., 4 ─ 8 p.m.) built into their day where parents and children can connect and fully focus on one another without distractions.
  • An employee may need to work fewer hours per day, but then also work for a few hours on Saturday, in order to allow for sufficient time to connect with their children during the week.

Employers should also set up family-friendly policies and procedures that address the unpredictable nature of child and family needs while simultaneously providing workers with EEOC/DOL compliant employment protections. Additionally, simply having the policies in place or in writing is not enough. It is important to communicate the policies to employees and to establish an organizational culture that supports the employees’ use of the policies without fear of reprisal or retaliation. 

  1. Remember we are in a pandemic!

We must remember that individuals and families are experiencing a variety of emotions and distress over getting ill, finances and food insecurity, losing out on cherished connections, activities and events, dealing with uncertainty over the future and much more. Employers may, at times, need to be patient with an employee who is experiencing distress that is affecting their work performance and/or refer employees to the appropriate mental health resources.

Companies can also help remote workers build or maintain social connections with others (during this time of social distancing) through setting up virtual events for employees and their children (such as family trivia or bingo nights, charades, etc.) or simply connecting employees with one another so they can share support and ideas with one another.

BeWellIndiana.com is a great site for finding resources for employees in the state of Indiana. Also, here is an article I wrote with tips for parents on dealing with their stress.

Taking these steps with remote workers should help to alleviate some of their concerns, daily struggles and emotional distress [18]. Ultimately, this should lead to a more satisfied and dedicated workforce and stronger families.

 

 

 

Sources

[1] J. M. Horowitz, “Lower-income parents most concerned about their children falling behind amid COVID-19 school closures,” Pew Res. Cent., 2020.

[2] S. Keeter, “People financially affected by COVID-19 outbreak are experiencing more psychological distress than others,” Pew Res. Cent., 2020.

[3] M. Drouin, B. T. McDaniel, J. A. Pater, and T. Toscos, “How parents and their children used social media and technology at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and associations with anxiety,” 2020.

[4] M. Shevlin et al., “Anxiety, Depression, Traumatic Stress, and COVID-19 Related Anxiety in the UK General Population During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” 2020.

[5] M. D. S. Ainsworth, M. C. w. Blehar, E. Waters, and S. Wall, “Theoretical background. Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation,” in Patterns of Attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation, M. D. S. Ainsworth, M. C. Blehar, E. Waters, and S. Wall, Eds. Routledge, 1978, pp. 3–28.

[6] B. T. McDaniel and S. M. Coyne, “‘Technoference’: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being,” Psychol. Pop. Media Cult., vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 85–98, 2016.

[7] B. T. McDaniel and J. S. Radesky, “Technoference: Parent Distraction With Technology and Associations With Child Behavior Problems,” Child Dev., vol. 89, no. 1, pp. 100–109, 2018.

[8] B. T. McDaniel and M. Drouin, “Daily technology interruptions and emotional and relational well-being,” Comput. Human Behav., vol. 99, pp. 1–8, 2019.

[9] B. T. McDaniel, A. M. Galovan, J. D. Cravens, and M. Drouin, “‘Technoference’ and implications for mothers’ and fathers’ couple and coparenting relationship quality,” Comput. Human Behav., vol. 80, pp. 303–313, 2018.

[10] B. T. McDaniel and S. M. S. M. Coyne, “Technology interference in the parenting of young children: Implications for mothers’ perceptions of coparenting,” Soc. Sci. J., vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 435–443, 2016.

[11] B. T. McDaniel and J. S. Radesky, “Technoference: Longitudinal associations between parent technology use, parenting stress, and child behavior problems,” Pediatr. Res., vol. 84, no. 2, pp. 210–218, 2018.

[12] B. T. McDaniel, “Parent distraction with phones, reasons for use, and impacts on parenting and child outcomes: A review of the emerging research,” Hum. Behav. Emerg. Technol., vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 72–80, 2019.

[13] L. Aarntzen, B. Derks, E. van Steenbergen, M. Ryan, and T. van der Lippe, “Work-family guilt as a straightjacket. An interview and diary study on consequences of mothers’ work-family guilt,” J. Vocat. Behav., 2019.

[14] E. Cho and T. D. Allen, “Relationship between work interference with family and parent-child interactive behavior: Can guilt help?,” J. Vocat. Behav., 2012.

[15] S. J. Creary and J. R. Gordon, “Role conflict, role overload, and role strain,” Encyclopedia of Family Studies. 2016.

[16] G. Johns, “Attendance Dynamics at Work: The Antecedents and Correlates of Presenteeism, Absenteeism, and Productivity Loss,” J. Occup. Health Psychol., 2011.

[17] N. Beutell and M. O’Hare, “Work Schedule and Work Schedule Control Fit: Work-Family Conflict, Work-Family Synergy, Gender, and Satisfaction,” SSRN Electron. J., 2018.

[18] Z. Goh, R. Ilies, and K. S. Wilson, “Supportive supervisors improve employees’ daily lives: The role supervisors play in the impact of daily workload on life satisfaction via work-family conflict,” J. Vocat. Behav., 2015.

 

 

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