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The third national Covid-19 lockdown has seen huge strains placed on working parents due to the Whitehall-led decision to once again close schools and most nurseries.

It would be fair to say that the first school closures in March last year were uncertain and daunting for everyone, and this time round parents knew at little more about what to expect both in terms of demands on their time and support from school.

However, in this latest lockdown the huge pressures are still there at home as working mums and dads fight to keep children learning and hold down their jobs.

We have hundreds of working parents within our organisation – all in different, unique situations and all with varying levels of support at home.

Dealing with home schooling has meant us needing to be completely flexible, accommodating, realistic and importantly, innovative. Having that as a starting base I really believe has been key to our success – and I speak as a working parent myself, juggling online home schooling.

I talked in my last blog about the introduction of our Employer Assistance Programme which has ensured our workforce is supported on any wellbeing and mental health issues. Home schooling support is now very much part of that initiative.

First and foremost, and especially since the start of this third and very testing lockdown, I have worked closely with our leadership teams to assess every individual who may need support. This assessment covered people’s requirements and what lockdown actually meant for each person on a practical level – including identifying who doesn’t have childcare support and who needs key worker letters so they’re able to send their children to school.

The practical elements have been so important. For example, we have changed people’s working hours to give them more time to be with small children in the day, whilst we have also revised the start times of meetings to allow parents to set up online schooling. A great example is recently one of our Service Delivery Managers asked for flexibility around his shifts so he can help with the childcare of his three children whilst they are at home.

The focus on the little things also threads through to encouraging parents to get out and take walks with the family, meanwhile a big success has been our introduction of a children’s activity club which has seen really fun and successful colouring and baking competition where children can win small prizes. The activity club has been a great way to integrate children into the business at such a tough time and it’s something we will look to continue.

What is important for me is that we don’t just impose these initiatives and ideas on our employees who are parents. We have been seeking feedback at every point which has been great to receive and has allowed us to tweak what we are doing, but also identify any other support which may be needed.

Like I’ve said before, no organisation can find a perfect world in lockdown, but I am massively proud of what we’ve achieved and how we have tried to strike a balance for our staff. Our HR team has played a leading role in that success.

The devil is in the detail and it has come down to first-class planning as an organisation, preparation and expecting the unexpected and perhaps more than anything, being patient with our employees, understanding their concerns and working together to find solutions.

I am really proud that we’re on the right road.

Jo Regan-Iles, Group People Officer – Sigma

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