School’s Out: How Companies Are Supporting Remote Working Parents

06/06/2022 6 min read
Audrey Goodson Kingo is a renowned career expert who has advised insurance giant Aon on staffing issues and shared her expertise with CNN, Good Morning America, MSN, and more.

With the arrival of summer, caregivers are seeking ways to keep kids busy and entertained while they work. But staffing shortages at day cares, rising costs at child care centers, and long waiting lists at summer camps are restricting the options.

While nearly one-third (32%) of remote working parents whose offices are physically open are working from home all or most of the time, according to a Pew Research survey, they still require company support in achieving much-needed work-life balance.

If parents can’t find the flexibility they need at their current company, they will simply seek it elsewhere—and not necessarily in a traditional 9-to-5 office job. A McKinsey survey found that parents were significantly more likely to quit to start their own business, and they expressed a greater interest in freelance work than their non-parenting peers.

To stem the tide of attrition and hire top talent, companies are shifting their benefits offerings—especially because the perks and policies that appeal to caregiving employees who commute to an office daily might not be an ideal fit for those who work from home full-time, or on a hybrid schedule.

“We're all in a fight for talent right now,”  Sandra Zornek, Assistant Vice President, Head of Global Benefits at Nasdaq, tells Staffing.com. “You have to put lots of hooks in the water because what's important to me might be different than what's important to you. We know people work hard, and we want to offer a level of flexibility that really enables them to do their best work.”

Here is how companies like Cisco, Nasdaq, and UKG are leading the charge to broaden benefits for remote working parents, enabling them to remain engaged and productive amid the juggling act of work and child care.

More Flexible Child Care Solutions

Companies have been increasing their child care benefits for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic proved the perk is crucial—and effective. In a 2022 poll of 2,000 US parents by child care provider KinderCare Learning Companies, 69% said they are able to be more involved in their child's life because their work schedule is more flexible—an increase of 10 percentage points from February 2020. In a Care.com survey, 57% of 500 US-based C-suite and executive human resources leaders said they plan to prioritize child care benefits more in 2022. Some companies are introducing or expanding on-site care. Walmart announced that its new headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, will include a 73,000-square-foot child care facility, scheduled to be complete in late 2023, with space for up to 500 children. However, the Care.com study found that employers increasingly favor flexible child care benefits (61%) over on-site care.

“Our report also indicates that this is a trend that will stick, not a fad,” Ralph Bershefsky, Head of Global Account Management for Care.com for Business, tells Staffing.com. “With people working remotely and hours being more fluid, traditional child care solutions are too rigid. Working parents need the ability to adjust their child care to meet their changing lifestyles. The good news is more employers understand that now and are stepping up to make it possible.”

Those flexible benefits include free access to platforms such as UrbanSitter and Care.com, where employees can find caregivers for children and older adults, with companies providing stipends to help cover the cost. Insurance giant Liberty Mutual introduced free access to Care.com shortly after the pandemic began. Nearly 3,000 employees have registered for the benefit, Sari Kalin, Assistant Director, Health and Well-Being Strategy at Liberty Mutual Insurance, tells Staffing.com. “Caregivers can use extra support and companies have the resources needed to support them," she says. "It is why we put our people first and provide a holistic approach to benefits.”

Childcare benefits frequently offered by companies include new parent support and online platforms.

During the pandemic, Nasdaq launched a program in partnership with Bright Horizons—the largest provider of employer-sponsored child care in the US—to give parents access to 20 days of back-up care. The benefit covers the cost of center-based or in-home care when parents’ regular child care arrangements aren't available. Zornek says the company is considering expanding the partnership because it’s been so well received, especially since many schools and day care centers still have strict rules regarding signs of illness. “If your kid has a cough or a sniffle, they’re staying home,” she says. “With Bright Horizons, you can bring someone into your home, and you can either go to the office or stay home in a different room and know your child is safe and cared for.”

Employers like theSkimm and B2B marketplace Order are partnering with providers that offer comprehensive care options, like Vivvi. “We understand that care and learning are not one size fits all, so our partnership with Vivvi provides multiple child care options to best fit our team’s unique needs,” Emily Fritz, People Operations Lead at Order (clients include WeWork and SoulCycle), tells Staffing.com. “These offerings include nationwide, subsidized in-home child care; subsidized on-campus child care for our team members located in New York City; and free virtual tutoring, as well as 10 free days of back-up care for the days when other child care providers may fall through or be unavailable." She says Order has team members enrolled in every one of these flexible options across three states.

Job benefits that prompt parents to stay or leave  include subsidized and on-demand child care.

Access to Online Learning

Order is one of many companies offering free tutoring and educational benefits. These programs provide tangible solutions for working parents who have struggled to find camps or child care for summer breaks and other school holidays. The programs also address concerns of parents who are worried that their children have fallen behind academically.

The workforce management company UKG is continuing its partnership with Tutor.com to provide its employees and their children (including anyone pursuing a college degree) free unlimited access to more than 3,000 vetted tutors. “In the first 13 months, more than 1,000 employees registered across 10 countries, with nearly 2,000 tutoring sessions conducted—and 98.6% of participating employees said they would recommend this program,” Rita Reslow, Senior Director of Benefits at UKG, tells Staffing.com.

Nasdaq teamed up with Outschool, an online marketplace of virtual classes for children ages 3 to 18, to provide its parent employees with credits for classes. “We had great utilization, so we decided to renew that relationship,” Zornek says. “For those who have exhausted their credit, we refreshed their balances and gave folks new funds to use the program again this year.”

Time Off for Personal Obligations

Work-life flexibility is compromised when employees are contending with back-to-back virtual meetings—an increasingly common phenomenon, according to Microsoft data.

To counter the disconnect, companies are finding ways to give people their time back. Employees at Order work with their managers to set their own hours, “which allows for the flexibility parents need to spend more time with their families, attend extracurricular activities, or be the person waiting for their kiddo in the school pick-up line,” Fritz says. TheSkimm joined UKG in offering unlimited paid time off. Nasdaq will continue to offer employees one “flex day” to recharge or attend to personal obligations every other month, a benefit introduced during the pandemic. In 2020, Cisco initiated a similar perk, called A Day for Me, which was extended to four flex days in 2022.

“More than 60% of our employees self-identify as caregivers, and we know they experience higher rates of burnout,” Francine Katsoudas, EVP and Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer at Cisco, tells Staffing.com. Flexibility also plays a key role in the tech giant’s commitment to its hybrid work model, she says.

“The freedom to choose where we work (home, office, or both) alleviates the stress and burnout that can happen under a one-size-fits-all approach. More than ever before, the hybrid work model has allowed Cisco to think deeply about our preferred work styles, team dynamics, and individual well-being to create an inclusive, positive environment for everyone but especially parents and caregivers,” she adds. “We know this flexibility is appreciated; we hear it in our quarterly employee listening surveys.”

Those surveys help HR leaders to make sure a company’s benefits are supporting the needs of their remote working employees, including caregivers. “If your goal is to offer wide-ranging benefits that are equitable and hit employees at various stages of life, you need to listen actively to your people to determine the benefits that will help them the most, and then use data to determine if they are being properly utilized,” says Reslow of UKG. “Administer and act on regular employee surveys. Run focus groups with a diverse employee population to understand what needs are out there. Look at the usage data and capture anecdotal evidence to ensure your programs are helping your people and are worth the investment.”

Then, keep an eye on the market, weighing the critical needs of employees— including working parents—against the benefits mix on offer. “When it comes to offering standout benefits for your people, you can never consider your work done,” she says. “It’s a competitive landscape out there—you should always be thinking of the next best benefit so you can stay ahead of other industry leaders and remain a true employer of choice for candidates, while serving the evolving needs of your current employees.”

Audrey Goodson Kingo is a renowned career expert who has advised insurance giant Aon on staffing issues and shared her expertise with CNN, Good Morning America, MSN, and more.