3 Ways Parents and Their Colleagues Are Navigating Remote Work

Parents at Nestlé share the lessons they’ve learned adapting to work in 2020

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “work-life balance.” I don’t think it captures the experience of juggling the many aspects of our lives. Instead, I see life as a stew — a blend of family, work, and self — akin to a blend of meat, potatoes, and veggies. Sometimes, your serving of the stew will include a heavier portion of work and sometimes you need an extra portion of being a friend, a spouse, or a parent. This blended-balance has never been trickier than in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic raised new pressures for parents. At Nestlé, we’ve always prioritized benefits and policies that care for employees as a whole person. That’s one reason we’ve further extended our progressive Parent Support Policy. The policy now includes 18 weeks of paid parental leave for primary caregivers, with the option to extend leave up to six months, whether you’ve had a new baby or adopted a minor child of any age. My job is to fuel Nestlé’s obsession with talent so the company can continue to grow and thrive. I know parental leave, childcare benefits, mental health support, and flexibility help us retain talent and help our employees perform at a high level every day.

Today, parents of children of all ages are trying to find structure among the chaos. As a mom of two (Carter 7, and Riley 2), I’ve found this daily jigsaw puzzle challenging, and I wanted to reach out to other parents to ask them how they were coping with their new reality.

As we talked, we found three core lessons on navigating our new reality, whether you’re a working parents, a supportive colleague, or a team leader: Embrace Empathy, Build for Flexibility, and Be Courageously Transparent. Here’s what parents across Nestlé had to say.

Embrace Empathy

Parenting during a pandemic can feel like running on a treadmill covered in LEGOs. And it doesn’t get any easier outside of the house — things like socializing, heading out to the grocery store, and running errands are all fraught with complexity. This isn’t easy, no matter your situation. It’s a wake-up call, and we’ve realized how much we rely on the understanding and patience of our colleagues.

Daniel, a father of one and President of Nestlé’s Beverage Division, has found increased empathy across the team to be a silver lining. “There are things that my teams do now to connect with each other that we never did before. There’s so much more empathy now — I am encouraged that, as colleagues, we’re seeing each other’s full selves. Everyone is experiencing this pandemic differently, we need to recognize that.”

Andrea, a Category Buyer at Nestlé Gerber, thinks empathy is the most important tool for colleagues who want to support parents on their team. “The best assistance is understanding. It’s so easy to feel guilty when something comes up and I need to lean on a colleague for support. But my manager and my colleagues understand and trust me, so that relieves a lot of pressure.”

By embracing empathy, the business world is taking a positive step away from focusing on stringent professionalism where work and life intersect. When kids disrupt meetings and appear on video calls, a new professional inevitability, I’m proud to see our whole company embrace it.

“A lot of my team members are parents,” explained Sharron, a Team Lead in Talent Sourcing at Nestlé Purina and mom of 2 (with a third on the way!) “We’ve learned to lean into the disruption because we’re going through it together. While it may not have been the case before, if someone’s kid interrupts a call, it’s just accepted by everyone, from the top down.”

Build for Flexibility

A lot of workplaces talk about how flexible they are — this pandemic has really put that talk to the test. Across Nestlé, our teams have been learning how to adapt their plans and ways of working for a new reality.

Elizabeth, a Diversity and Inclusion Manager, has been embracing the power of a flexible schedule since before the pandemic. “It’s because of Nestlé’s policies and flexibility that I was able to become a single mom by choice. With the parent support policy and my colleagues’ support, I was able to make that decision. I’m impressed with how we’ve adapted to remote work — it’s one thing for a company to say they have a flexible workplace, it’s another thing to put it into action.”

Daniel echoes this sentiment, “As a leader, I’ve learned that what may have used to be a ‘mandatory’ meeting has to be delivered differently to different people, based on their situation. As leaders, we have to be flexible.”

There is also a sense among many employees that this is a positive step forward for the future of bringing our whole selves to work. Ash, a Product Manager at Nestlé Coffee Partners, thinks that the lessons of the pandemic are helping broaden our work mindsets. “Remote work has removed our professional masks. We now better understand that your lived experience affects your professional life. A work-life separation doesn’t exist — I’m a professional and mum and a wife and a teacher and a playmate.”

Be Courageously Transparent

As a leader, I know how important it is to be open and honest with my team. Especially when we first transitioned to a remote environment, every morning I would ask my team, how are you showing up today? How do you feel? How can I support you today?

Khosi is a Brand Strategy Manager who returned to work from maternity leave the week our offices closed. She has faced a steep learning curve as a parent, especially while grappling with racial inequity. “I’m more resilient than I realized. I’m a new mom going through a pandemic and a civil rights movement to protect my son. That is something I’m going through, and I’m not going to pretend I don’t have this reality. I’ve given myself permission to be transparent.”

Sharron, who will soon be taking parental leave for the birth of her third child, has been honest with her team and her leadership about how she’s coming to work each day and encourages those she manages to do the same. “I’ve had to balance my work and my children’s school schedule without outside childcare help — that’s a whole other level of exhaustion. I work with my manager to find a balance that works for my team and my family’s needs — this has been met with a great deal of understanding.”

Transparency also has the power to alleviate concerns that parents are being judged for the ways in which they’re managing their time. “If I have a bad day, I just roll with it,” Elizabeth tells me. “I’m open with my colleagues, and instead of making myself feel guilty, I allow myself to be open and give my colleagues the benefit of the doubt that they understand.”

Everyone has a life outside of work. For new and veteran parents alike, navigating different areas of life was already a daunting prospect. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and we quickly recognize the importance of a strong work community. Expanded benefits — from our flexible work policies to our Parental Support Policy — are key ingredients in how we help parents make their own stew.

As a professional community, we’re embracing these ideas of empathy, flexibility, and transparency to support each other every day. As professionals, we all want to thrive and expand our opportunities. As parents, we want the same for our children.

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