Working through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. Working parents with young children in the household face their own unique and particular challenges.
Nannies have worked with Work At Home Parents (WAHP) for decades and generally know up front that this is the situation. Most WAHP - nanny situations are well planned, with defined workspace, hours, and communication protocols in place. Many nannies chose not to pursue jobs in WAHP situations because of the high level of communication, interaction and coordination necessary to make this work for all.
The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic came without warning, and parents and nannies were overnight thrust into working situations they never imagined. And for families with school aged children, layer on home schooling and distance learning over top of parents working in the home and it becomes an entirely new juggling act.
Realism and Transparency
Families now more than ever need to depend on their nanny. The ability of working parents to continue meeting their employer's expectations and needs is predicated on the nanny meeting the family's childcare needs.
All parties need to be realistic. A home with young children present cannot remain quiet at all times. So how do you balance quiet vs. activity? Many parents find themselves in less than ideal physical spaces for work - after all they didn't plan on having a home office. Some solutions families have shared with us include:
- Noise cancelling headsets;
- Working from a bedroom;
- Temporarily bunking children together and setting up an office in the extra bedroom;
- White noise machines;
- Scheduling telephone calls during nap time. With school aged children schedule reading / quiet time.;
- Nanny schedule a walk or bike ride at a fixed time each AM, weather permitting, to allow for calls and conferences.
Radical transparency in the workplace means "creating a culture that is direct and honest in communication" to build trust between employers and employees. In the age of COVID-19 this is vital - all parties need to be brutally honest about their health first and foremost, and secondarily about their workplace and occasionally even household challenges. Approaching challenges with a flexible, can-do attitude will allow for creative solutions that everyone can live with.
As the employer, you need to insure that your nanny is free to speak her mind, rather than letting issues fester. And in order to empower your nanny to be radically transparent about HER health, you will need to rethink your paid leave policy. Don't force her to choose between hiding an illness to protect her paycheck or communicating her symptoms and losing her pay. By the same token, if you or a household member are ill, have her stay home with pay until it is clearly safe to return to work. Presuming you and your nanny have a healthy working relationship, there is no reason to believe she will abuse your paid leave. You may even qualify for tax benefits for her paid leave.
Other Logistics and Protocols
Working from home while the children and nanny are present creates other logistical challenges. Young children in particular have a hard time understanding why mommy or daddy are home and yet not available to them. If you are lucky enough to be working in a place with a door, some sort of "Do Not Disturb" code should be worked out - similar to the tie on you college dorm room when your roommate was entertaining!
The quietest, most ideal location for parents to work from home may just be a WiFi dead zone. Mesh systems and WiFi extenders can solve that problem. And if your children are distance learning while you are Zoom conferencing, you may find you are competing for bandwidth. Contact your internet provider and upgrade your data plan.
Your children can become stir crazy just like you! Do try to explore SAFE activities your child and nanny can do together. Playgrounds and community pools are largely off limits. Consider learning to scooter on neighborhood sidewalks or trails (always wearing a helmet!) or sidewalk chalk art on your driveway. Every person re-entering the home for outdoors should immediately wash their hands. Many families who never previously thought of it are implementing a "shoes off at the door" policy.
Review your screen time policies with your nanny. Your toddler may in fact benefit from certain video entertainment, particularly those that involve exercise. Virtual child yoga classes and other activity based screen viewing can go a long way to releasing energy and keeping children physically and emotionally calm. Whatever you decide, be sure to have an open and honest conversation with your nanny.
The Best Laid Plans ... Approaching Difficult Conversations
Even with the clearest communication, collaborative planning and problem solving, things don't always go to plan. Difficult conversations initiated by the nanny are even more fraught with anxiety due to the power dynamic between employer and subordinate.
Do set aside some uninterrupted time for the conversation if at all possible. Face to face is best, however from a practical standpoint a phone call may be the answer after hours when the children are in bed. AVOID text and email discussions.
Be direct - remember that radical transparency we discussed above? Be appreciative of the other party's willingness to talk and do give everyone the benefit of the doubt as to motives. Experts suggest that the initiator of the conversation to come armed with choices for the other and give them options. (Nannies, does this sound familiar? Offering choices is also a method that early childhood educators suggest for getting young children to comply with requests.)
Wrap up the conversation with a summary of that actions have been agreed to and do schedule a time to follow-up to evaluate and adjust.
What challenges have you faced when nanny and parents share a workspace? How did you resolve the challenge?