Employers: Here’s How to Empower Parents Right Now

Nora Jenkins Townson
Published in
9 min readApr 15, 2020


Working from home with kids all day every day is uncharted territory for parents affected by COVID-19.

Illustration by Ella Byworth

Note: This is a guest post from our friends and clients at Wagepoint. Occasionally, Bright + Early will post or republish partner content. This content will never be an advertisement or paid for, and will always meet our values of supporting employee-friendly companies.

The spread of COVID-19 was sudden and unexpected. So was the instant status of becoming a remote employee and full-time parent with children who are home from school and childcare for an indefinite period of time.

Depending on the age of their children, some parents may have had one-off experiences with balancing work and childcare via Provincial Activity (PA) days or when a child is sick. But working from home with kids around for an unknown period? For most, that’s uncharted territory.

It isn’t easy navigating through uncertainty, but there are a few timeless tips employers and working parents can keep top of mind as the global workforce figures out how to survive life at home working with kids.

How can employers support parents working from home?

With empathy — and make sure it’s extra stretchy.

Working parents and guardians have to juggle competing priorities right now: their job performance, their children’s learning and development, and everyone’s health and safety (and sanity), including their own.

As an employer, you can stretch your empathy muscles by understanding the following:

Every family is different — there’s no “one size fits all.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic coming in at high speed, people are being asked to help “flatten the curve” by minimizing in-person interactions with others. While everyone is practicing social distancing, not every family faces the same problems that have arisen from it.

The impact of different situations such as the cancellation of school and services and having to work remotely may vary among families. For some, it means parents working from home will need to take time out of work to keep their children entertained. For others, it means having to suddenly homeschool.

For families with children who have special needs, it may not just affect childcare or learning — but the cancellation of school may impact their access to services including behavioural therapists, counsellors and speech language pathologists that are essential to their child’s wellbeing.

Understand that diverse families require diverse needs — there is no cookie-cutter solution because every family, from multi-generational to single parents, is different and will face their own set of challenges.

A child’s age makes a difference.

If you have two employees — one with a newborn and one with a tween — chances are, their experiences as a parent and remote worker will differ. Each age group will have different needs and work at home parents and caregivers will have to adjust their schedule to tend to these needs.

A few things to keep in mind are:

  • Newborns are completely reliant on their parents.
  • Toddlers may demand more attention as most can only solo play for so long.
  • Elementary-aged children need a mix of homeschooling and school-supplied activities throughout the day.
  • Tweens and teenagers haven’t lived through a pandemic and with the closure of school and uncertainty of the future, they may need help coping with existential angst.

Keeping in mind that age makes a difference, remember to be patient, especially if one working parent appears to be “more productive” than another.

Not all families have a support network.

Adding to the mix are big changes to normal support systems — daycares, schools, community centres and other facilities are temporarily closed. Calling in reinforcements (grandparents or other family members) may no longer be an option because of the health risk concerns associated with the virus.

Although technology allows us to continue to connect with our family and friends, not everyone has family and friends they can turn to. Instead, they rely on support groups and public services — these scenarios could include families who may have just recently moved to a new city to “start over” or are new to the country altogether.

While these are tough times for everyone, recognize that there are work at home parents who may have even less support than others.

It’s really hard to parent and work from home at the same time.

Pretending that things are normal, when they’re not, doesn’t give you — or anyone else — an edge in the professional world. As parents working from home with kids figure out how to navigate through this time, understanding that they may need to make changes to the typical workday to accommodate their children and partner is crucial.

Being “understanding” doesn’t just mean letting parents work when they can. Parents know that during this time, their productivity will diminish — the best way to support them is to not hold their diminished productivity against them.

“When you consider productivity at this time, it’s really challenging to expect people to be at 100%.” — Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale, Founders, Raw Signal Group

Managing your expectations and showing patience will go a long way, especially if parents are afraid of being reprimanded for not appearing to work as hard because they need to take care of their children. It’s more important to focus the impact and value employees deliver, and not their productivity.

Parenting in social isolation

As mentioned earlier, we need to practice “social distancing” or minimize close contact with others to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This means working from home, only going out in public if needed (getting groceries), not getting together with your friends, and so on.

Parenting is not an easy feat — and to do it in social isolation ups the ante. Here are a few things to keep in mind regarding parents practicing social isolation.

Parents working from home need to find their people.

For many children, the best part of school is recess and lunchtime because it lets them play or interact with their friends. This need for human interaction doesn’t stop when we’re kids. It’s something that stays with us forever.

The great philosopher Aristotle once wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal,” which may be why social isolation is proving to be difficult for everyone.

But, good news — technology is on our side and can help employers and remote employees alike stay socially connected at a distance. Although the official phrase is “social distancing,” it can be more accurately described as “physical distancing”.

Encourage work at home parents to take advantage of social media, video apps and online games to support each other and share some laughs until the virus is under control — happy hour doesn’t have to be a thing of the past, you just have to be a bit more creative.

Here are a few apps and platforms parents can use to stay connected with their support networks:

  • FaceTime — a free video chat platform that’s pre-installed on Apple devices.
  • Google Hangouts — Google’s very own communication software. It’s fully integrated with G Suite, so you can join meetings directly from a calendar event or email invite.
  • Houseparty — a video conferencing app you can install on your phone or computer. Users can dip in and out of a “house” rather than having to make a call and can play games with their quarantine buddies such as Trivia and Heads Up.
  • Jackbox Games — a bundle of accessible party games that requires only one host. Other players can join in from any device with an internet browser be it a phone, tablet, laptop or another PC. A top choice: Mad Verse City in party pack 5 — because who can say no to rapping robots?
  • Zoom — a video conferencing platform you can use to virtually meet with others — either by video or audio-only or both.

Remote employees with kids need to remember to breathe.

Suddenly having to juggle everything — from being an attentive parent and productive remote worker to being a full-time homeschool teacher and homemaker — with no warning is overwhelming. It’s understandable to get wrapped up in the busyness of things and the stress that comes along with it.

Don’t forget that employees and parents are human, and these special circumstances may not allow you to do everything 100% all the time. Remind them to go easy on themselves and remember to breathe. It’s all about doing as much as you can — without compromising your mental health.

In fact, let’s take a second now: deep breath in, deep breath out.

Remind your remote employees to make some time for themselves. Encourage them to capitalize on naptime and meditate, journal, Keep up with the Kardashians — anything they need to replenish themselves. As the saying goes: You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Here are some remote-friendly, self-care resources employees working at home with kids can add to their parent toolkits:

  • COVID-19 mental health resources — a document started by a designer and fellow human-being in Toronto.
  • Happy Color — colour by number on your mobile device.
  • Headspace — access mindfulness and meditation activities (they’re offering free resources right now).
  • Inkblot — connect with certified therapists and coaches based on your needs and preferences.
  • WYSA — Wysa is your pocket-sized and interactive “make me smile” buddy that you can always chat with to feel better. It’s also a free app.

Encourage employees to do what works for them and their families.

As people search for resources such as optimal homeschool schedules and activities to keep their children educated, keep in mind that there’s no “copy and paste” solution. Encourage your employees to do what works best for them and their families. If following the routine they found online is helpful, then great! If not, then forgo the schedule. It’s totally okay either way.

Child therapists encourage parents not to worry about schoolwork and should see the break as an opportunity for child-led, individualized learning. Because of the school closures, there are a variety of organizations and businesses offering free or low cost resources to help educate children and teach them new skills.

Here are some online learning resources to consider:

  • ABC Mouse — a subscription-based digital education program for children ages 2–8 that offers over 9,000 interactive activities related to reading, math, science and art and colours.
  • Crash Course Kids — a Youtube channel that’s all about grade school science, starting with the 5th grade.
  • Dreambox — a math app for elementary studies that aligns with curriculum and each student’s needs. Now through April 30, 2020, parents can get a free 90-day trial.
  • Duolingo — a popular language-learning platform meant for people and not just limited to children!
  • Epic! — the leading digital library for kids 12 and under. Parents can sign up for a free 30-day trial.
  • Freckle Education — an app that allows students grades K-12 to learn various subjects such as science, social studies, math and English language arts at their own pace. Teachers can go in the app and monitor students’ progress.
  • Khan Academy — a nonprofit that offers free courses for all levels from children to adults, and subjects from early math and grammar to engineering to art history.
  • Kidsactivities.com — an online blog that houses a comprehensive collection of educational YouTube channels for kids, dozens of online field trips they can take around the world and explore “virtually”, and an exhaustive list of education companies that are offering free subscriptions due to the school closures.
  • Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems — Meet the award-winning author and spend time with him as he teaches kids about his famous characters and how to draw the Pigeon, Elephant and Piggie and more.
  • Raz-Kids — a teaching product that provides hundreds of interactive eBooks for kids from kindergarten to Grade 5 and has a 14-day free trial.
  • Scholastic Canada — the popular book club and educational publishing company that also offers read aloud video books, learn at home resources for parents and other activities.

And in case that wasn’t enough, parents can also access this master public Google Sheet of activities.

We’re all in this together.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a huge wrench in everyone’s life plans, forcing families to learn how to work and play together all day, every day.

Parents can stay connected while remaining apart by turning to online resources and platforms to keep their mental health and sanity in check and their children educated.

Employers can also support parents working from home by practicing empathy and patience and understanding that every family will experience the pandemic differently.

Although we may not be experiencing the same things, we are still facing the same pandemic and need to support one another through this unique time in our lives.

About us:

Bright + Early is a modern HR consultancy on a mission to craft the world’s best workplaces. We partner with early to mid-stage companies who need to scale fast but stay friendly. Nothing in place? Don’t know where to start? No problem.

Wagepoint is simple payroll software built just for small businesses and backed by the world’s friendliest team. Likes: All things payroll, small businesses, employee management and dad jokes.



Nora Jenkins Townson

Founder @ Bright+ Early, former head of people ops @wealthsimple, startup HR veteran. Into food, books, weirdness and creating the future of work.