Creating workplace support for parents doesn’t have to break the time or money bank
Being pulled in multiple directions is a familiar feeling for all working parents. Parenting is a full-time job in itself, and many of us simultaneously pursue a full-time career. It’s a challenging dichotomy: when we’re at work, what is going on at home can preoccupy our minds, and when we’re at home, we’re always only one email notification away from being pulled back into thinking about work. The tech industry in particular is famous for an “always on” work mentality and overflowing calendars, and it’s easy to find ourselves trying to sort through what seems like never-ending lists of projects (both at work and at home) waiting for prioritization and completion.
As a group of parents who work at Uber in Seattle, we’ve given a lot of thought as to how we can help our workplace come together to support parents. (Sorry, we don’t have a mythical solution to help us all balance our lives perfectly — we’ll let you know when that one releases.) We realized that, though many of our coworkers share the same reality, working parents often feel alone in this dual existence and hesitate to address it. We set out this past year to tackle this missed opportunity: to not only comfortably bring our whole selves to work, but also to better support one another. In this article, we’ll reflect on how we came together as parents to create a local support infrastructure, offer kid-friendly events to broaden our office’s cultural offerings, and create a safe space for parents to talk about their needs and challenges associated with being a working parent.
Many companies have global resource groups for parents, but in our case, we found we were missing a local support system — so we built one of our own. We wanted to complement the offerings of the San Francisco-based Parents at Uber employee resource group. Our engagement model, shown in Figure 1, worked well for us, and we hope it might inspire you to spark a support system in your office. We spend so much of our lives in our offices and thinking about our careers, and everyone, not just working parents, can benefit from an open and inclusive professional environment that feeds our whole selves, not just our career goals.
Learning #1: Don’t overthink, just do
We’re all busy with a number of commitments. Sometimes with so many responsibilities both in and outside the office, we might overanalyze tackling new endeavors. Particularly as working parents, we’ve all asked ourselves, “Do we really have time?” “Can we balance this all?” Thoughts of scheduling nightmares with extra meetings and responsibilities alongside those pediatric dental checkups that can only take place during the work day…we get it. But we’re here to tell you that yes, while it’s important to consider all of our commitments, overthinking can sometimes lead to analysis paralysis. We encourage you to put aside the overthinking and just get started.
To avoid overthinking, start small. Don’t think of hosting extravagant events; start with an intro meeting. Set up a 30-minute meet and greet, invite all the parents in your office, and encourage them to invite other parents. In this initial meeting, you can encourage everyone to introduce themselves and share what they’d hope to gain from the group. This conversation will help you decide how you can best support one another. In our case, parents in the Uber Seattle office talked about having a safe space in which to ask questions and talk about the challenges associated with raising children at any stage. To respond to this need, we set up a “Parents at Uber — Seattle” channel on our internal chat system and initiated monthly brown bag lunches. We’ve already seen helpful posts answered about kid-friendly day trips, doctor recommendations, and back-up childcare. We’ve also spent casual and meaningful lunch hours talking about things like how to communicate more effectively with kids. Neither of these require much bandwidth from event organizers, but they offer real opportunities for parents to connect, ask questions, offer advice, and learn from each other.
Learning #2: Ask for help
We’re all relentless in the pursuit of excellence at our jobs, and we often have specific goals to develop our skills and master our craft. It’s easy to fall into a panic when we’re constantly swamped with work that feels distracting from these goals. We might also fall into an assumption that the time involved in coaching others to do a job takes longer than simply doing it yourself. The trap of “I can do everything by myself” is a dangerous thing for working parents. In our Seattle Parents at Uber group (and in our parental lives), we’ve found the opposite to be true: understanding that you can’t do everything AND reaching out for help demonstrates both humility and strength, as well as, sending a valuable message to our children about teamwork and collaboration.
In our supportive and understanding group, we lean on each other to get things done regardless of the ebb and flow of our demanding “regular” jobs. We’ve seen other members regularly step up to lead events or help lessen the load when workloads increase, vacations or sick days happen, or members even go on parental leave. Openly and transparently sharing concerns and responsibilities has resulted in all of us being happier, less stressed (at home and work) and more productive, which is a great win.
Learning #3: Include everyone
We’ve cultivated an active group of individuals that coordinates activities geared toward the parent community. However, one special group that we’ve learned to actively include is colleagues who aren’t parents but love supporting kid-friendly events! Maybe your deskmate has a background in caregiving and could lead a brown bag lunch on how to care for children in an emergency situation, or maybe — as was the case at Uber Seattle — they are a talented fellow designer who can help produce a visual identity and signage that promotes your next kid-friendly office event. We’ve heard directly from colleagues without kids that helping out has brought them joy. It really is a win for everyone! While these office events themselves have proved invaluable to parents at Uber, we wouldn’t be able to pull them off without the help of the entire company (see Figure 2).
Learning #4: Take time to reflect before moving on
After the event is over, it’s tempting to quickly move onto the next thing on the calendar, but we’ve found that pausing to reflect afterwards is an effective way to learn from the event, make sure our audience’s needs are being met, and prepare for future events. We’ve done so by sending brief surveys to participants to hear their experience and asking around the office for feedback. As a planning group, we also regularly talk about what went well and what we’d change in the future. Such purposeful reflection allows us to thoughtfully take on future plans, which leads nicely into our next learning about how valuable it can be to…
Learning #5: Create playbooks
Our final learning brings it altogether: spend the extra time to create playbooks so that activities can easily be shared or replicated in the future by different people (see Figure 3). In the past, legacy knowledge was often held by one person who might not be available, and we really scrambled to recreate events. Cutting down future questions is always a timesaver, right? One solution we found to avoid needing to reinvent the wheel was to create an event playbook. We’ve had organizers type up guides for hosting things like a school-supply drive or an office family-friendly Halloween party. These simple documents allow a potential organizer to (1) share a timeline and necessary processes, (2) pass off learnings, and (3) make it possible for others to organize similar events in the future. While creating playbooks is admittedly an extra step at the end of an event, it’s a huge value-add that wraps up the event and ensures the group’s future success, and provides a template for other groups to use to create events of their own.
We hope you’re energized about the potential of creating or contributing to a parents group in your workplace. (Or a group centered around another common life experience!) You might still be a little hesitant, asking yourself a number of questions like, “is this work?” “Do we have the resources?” Yes, it requires some upfront effort, but there isn’t much that succeeds without some effort (which we definitely know as parents!). In terms of resources, a sense of community can grow without much budget. We listened (which is free) to our group’s need for a safe space and then designed low-cost events like informal brown bag lunches to foster such a space. And as we’ve learned, when we ask other people to be involved or to lead activities, it makes everything more manageable and it benefits everyone who participates. And on a final note: it’s worth it! If you can create a space that helps even one (or many) parent(s) feel less alone in the daily work-life world, your work is a success. The support structure we’ve created at our Uber Seattle office is welcoming of parents, yes, but moreover, it’s a safe space in which parents can bring our whole selves to work and give voice to what matters to us.