Working from Home Together: Employers Entertain Workers’ Kids by Video

 

By Susan Ladika April 23, 2020
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little girl baking cookies

​Magic shows, cooking classes and story times are just a few of the ways organizations are trying to assist their employees who are working from home. But the entertainment isn't for the workers—it's for the workers' kids.

Millions of employees who are working from home have to handle their work responsibilities while also teaching and entertaining their kids as schools and day care centers have shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's one thing to work from home when a child is sick, said Grant Pace, owner of the Boston advertising agency CTP Boston. "It's another thing trying to get in a whole day of work and the kids need attention. It puts a lot of stress on people trying to get work done, trying to keep their kids sane and trying to keep themselves sane."

CTP Boston recently launched a weekly entertainment hour for its employees' kids. Pace's own daughters, who are 8 and 9, "were riveted to the computer" watching a magic show, he said.

The company's human resources manager and office manager hired local talent to put on the performances, he said.

Companies of various sizes—from CTP Boston with just 45 employees to those with thousands of employees around the world—have developed entertainment and educational opportunities for their staff's kids.

Before the pandemic struck, about 40 percent of the workforce at Cornerstone OnDemand already worked remotely, said Kimberly Cassady, the company's chief talent officer and a SHRM member.

But "this is a very different work environment with the spouse, kids and partners at home," said Cassady. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company offers cloud-based talent management systems and has about 2,000 employees.

Kids and pets often show up in the middle of video conferences. "We want people to know that's OK," Cassady said, and the company decided to incorporate them into the work environment.

Cornerstone is planning a virtual "bring your child to work day" so the youngsters can learn what the company and their parents do, and the kind of careers that are available, Cassady said.

The company offers virtual yoga sessions that children can attend and turns the cameras on the kids for "crafternoons," where kids teach such skills as how to dye Easter eggs and how to repot a plant. "Kids have something to teach us," Cassady said.

At HBR Consulting, the idea to create programming for kids "took on a life of its own from listening to employees," said Tenia Davis, a SHRM member who is chief talent and administrative services officer for the Chicago firm, which provides advisory and software solutions to legal firms.

HBR Consulting, which has about 350 employees, decided to designate Wednesdays as family lunchtime, "when kids are the most active," Davis said.

Various employees and their families are hosting virtual cooking and baking sessions, whipping up foods ranging from fettuccine to cookies.

"Employees have taken this on, sharing their favorite recipes. It's a recipe where everyone can help and then have lunch together," Davis said.

The company has also organized karaoke sessions for the entire family.

HBR also sends out a weekly FAQ to employees, with a section devoted to parents. It includes information on such things as virtual museum visits and websites and social media sites that cater to kids, she said.

Boston-based Motus, which provides reimbursement solutions for businesses and has about 350 employees, has created a Slack channel called motus-munchkins to connect employees' children across the company.

Three times a week, older children read stories to younger ones using GoToMeeting videoconferencing, said Shannon Burke, Motus's manager of channel operations.

The older kids receive a certificate for their efforts. "They get really excited about reading," Burke said.

The company now has added a group singalong, led by a Motus employee and her husband who are in a band, and the songs appeal to children and their parents alike, she said.

Software company HubSpot, which has about 3,300 employees, uses Zoom to host live programs for kids. That includes teachers who lead 45-minute-long classes several times each week, said spokeswoman Sophie Hamersley.

The educational sessions are divided into two groups—one for youngsters up to age 4, and another for 4- to 8-year-olds. The classes have covered such topics as sea creatures, outer space and African animals. There are lesson plans and other resources that parents can use for each session, Hamersley said.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company also provides activities such as sing-a-longs, dance parties, storytelling and yoga, and all the content is recorded so parents can access it at any time.

"It's critical that we support our employees now more than ever as they navigate this new reality," said Tamara Lilian, manager of culture and experience at HubSpot. "Our goal for children is to keep them engaged and educated, while our goal for parents is to keep them motivated and remind them that they're not alone while we all work remotely for the foreseeable future."

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.

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