By Simone Lockhart

Across the Taranata Group, we saw the start of 2021 as a return to some sort of normality and yet here we are straight into another full-scale lockdown. Hearing about the new strain of the virus in late December, most will have expected tougher restrictions, but for parents of school-age children I know many had fingers tightly crossed it wouldn’t extend as far as the beginning of February – and possibly beyond – introducing what is now a pretty chunky period of home schooling.

But here we are.

From a work perspective, 2021 was to be the beginning of rebuilding our businesses, increasing our productivity, and getting some sense of ‘business as usual’ back into our daily working lives. We’re now used to working from home, navigating our way around the tiered restrictions, and how to manage (and motivate) people remotely. However, many again find themselves having to factor in a Monday to Friday of being a business professional, full-time parent and a teacher, available and equipped to deliver a decent level of education to our children.

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The good news? We’re definitely more prepared this time, both as parents and as employers, but what learnings can we take from 2020 to best support our working parent this time around?

Flexibility has got to be at the heart of it all – for employers, parents and for our children. However, at the same time there is the need for routine. Now there’s a juxtaposition if ever I saw one!

Add in the need to get our businesses off to a good start and we’re really setting ourselves a New Year’s challenge.

Many organisations may be able to offer parents full or part-time furlough to manage this period, but where businesses need staff firing on all cylinders, the minimum we can do is give people the flexibility to work around a new routine that includes home schooling.

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So let’s avoid the 9am team meeting, encourage people to take a full hour for lunch and to squeeze in a daily walk with their kids, allow time to set up the afternoon’s schooling activities and be there to help our people prioritise the most important work tasks. As leaders we can help by being clear up-front that we understand the challenge, and that we’re totally fine with children being part of working life. Flexibility might also mean that work will be done early in the morning or in the evening.

On the flip side, we need to caveat that people shouldn’t feel the need to be online 24/7 to compensate. Above all, let our people know that we are there to genuinely help and support wherever we can.

Let’s rip up the inflexible 9-5 rulebook and instead be clear on what work ‘outcomes’ are required, allowing our working parents to manage their own time to get the job done in a way that works for everyone – kids included.

Simone Lockhart is group commercial director of the Taranata Group