Nine Accommodations We Made to Create a Parent-Inclusive Workplace

Many companies begin building parent-inclusive-environments (yes, I made that up) when a working mother steps into a c-suite leadership role. VISIONALITY is no different, except she was our first employee! When Llewellyn joined VIS, she was learning to be a first-time mom, and I was learning to be a first-time employer. We built the system together, starting on day 1. I immediately realized the business benefits of having a working parent on the team.

First, as a tiny company I couldn’t afford to hire a full-time employee yet. Llewellyn was delighted with the initial 5-7 hours a week I had for her, instead of working this job while looking for something full time (don’t forget: turnover is our largest expense and is sneaky because it doesn’t show up as a line item on your P&L). She was able to transition back into the work at her own pace, while becoming a working parent.

Second, because Llewellyn worked “odd” hours, and her availability was subject to the ever-changing needs of her kiddo and childcare, she couldn’t work directly with our clients. Decades ago, Michael Gerber coined the phrase “Work on it, not just in it” – meaning that business owners need to (of course) do the work of their business – in our case, nonprofit consulting. But additionally, and more importantly, need to work ON the business – creating the foundation on which you will build the business so that it can thrive *without* the founder.

Because of Llewellyn’s schedule, she was constrained to working “on” VISIONALITY. Some of this may sound silly, but it’s truly what enabled us to steadily grow for nearly 11 years, surviving multiple natural and manmade disasters, and a global pandemic. In her first year, Llewellyn checked the mail. She made sure the insurance got renewed. She set up our petty cash system. Sounds easy enough, right? What’s the big deal?

Over the past 8 years, Llewellyn has become our Chief “Figure It Out” Officer. It’s her job to figure out the next thing that will bring stability and profit to our company. You know … little things like developing our bookkeeping structure so that we have useful and actionable reports to inform our strategic decisions. She created and continues to evolve our brilliant hiring strategy and compensation practices, resulting in ZERO TURNOVER DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC. She led our rebranding efforts from Emily Barany Consulting to VISIONALITY.

VISIONALITY has grown alongside Llewellyn and her family. There is ALWAYS something new to learn, a new policy to implement, or an up leveling of operations for us to explore. And, I get to work beside this brilliant woman all because I made a few accommodations. Want to know what they are? Here are NINE – one for every glorious year Llewellyn has been a working parent.

1. Flexible Schedule – Letting employees choose when they work is an easy way to increase retention and happiness. If you’re best in the morning, then it’s in the best interest of our company, clients, and team for you to come in at 7 and leave at 3. Same is true for working parents. Allowing breaks in the workday for school drop off/pick up, taking an evening break for family dinner, then coming back after the kiddos are asleep is not typical, and it’s honestly a super easy accommodation to make.

PRO TIP: HAVE YOUR PART TIME EMPLOYEES PUT THEIR INTENDED WORK SCHEDULE ON A SHARED CALENDAR, PLUS ANY NON-NEGOTIABLE TIMES THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT AVAILABLE.

2. Have a Communications Hierarchy – Llewellyn may only be sitting at her computer for 12 hours a week, but she’s usually generally “available” the rest of the time. Work tasks/deliverables are communicated through our project management tool (Monday.com), things in process with outside vendors are handled in email, quick chats and questions are through google chat. Here’s where it gets important: If I need an answer before she’s scheduled to be working next (re-read above, that I generally know when she’s going to be working), I’ll text, but ONLY if it truly can’t wait until she’s online next. Finally, we reserve phone calls for true emergencies and celebrations that are too exciting to wait!

PRO TIP: THIS HIERARCHY REQUIRES AN IMMENSE AMOUNT OF TRUST AND RESPECT ON BOTH SIDES. LLEWELLYN TRUSTS THAT I WILL REALLY ONLY CALL/TEXT WHEN IT IS CRITICAL, AND I TRUST THAT SHE WILL ONLY ANSWER/RESPOND WHEN IT IS APPROPRIATE, BASED ON WHAT SHE’S MANAGING AT HOME. THIS RESPECT MEANS SHE’S OKAY WITH ME CALLING WHEN SHE’S PLAYING LEGOS, AND I KNOW I’M NOT CROSSING MASSIVE BOUNDARIES WHEN I REALLY DO NEED A QUICK ANSWER.

3. Work from Home – You know what happens when you have kids? LAUNDRY. At its base, working from home means you can parse necessary home tasks throughout the day. I keep meeting managers who don’t trust their employees to actually work, if they aren’t in the same room. A global pandemic and multitudes of productivity and happiness studies have proven that, overall, employees prefer to work from home, produce more work in less time, and are happier.

PRO TIP: SETTING UP A HOME OFFICE CAN BE TRICKY AND EXPENSIVE. ENCOURAGE ALL EMPLOYEES, ESPECIALLY THOSE WITH CHILDREN, TO HAVE A WORK NOOK, NO MATTER HOW SMALL. THIS REINFORCES THAT IT’S OKAY TO BE AT “WORK” WHEN YOU’RE WORKING, AND THAT YOU CAN FOCUS ON FAMILY WHEN YOU ARE HOME. ALSO, SETTING UP A HOME OFFICE CAN BE EXPENSIVE. WE GAVE EACH EMPLOYEE A $500 STIPEND TO SHORE UP THEIR HOME WORKSPACES, TO SPEND AT THEIR DISCRETION, BASED ON WHAT THEY HAVE ALREADY AND WHAT THEY NEED TO BE MORE COMFORTABLE WHEN THEY ARE WORKING.

4. Respecting Boundaries – Llewellyn’s sweet spot is 12 hours a week. Not 13 – that’s when home stuff starts to slip. And not 11 – or she doesn’t feel connected enough to her independence and career. Llewellyn DOES work more than 12 hours a week (when we are hiring) and DOES work less than 12 (when she was learning how to zoom school three kiddos). But we always pull it back to 12 hours a week. Llewellyn has gotten really good at watching this boundary and adjusting her to-do list to fit. My job is to help her prioritize and take things off her plate when it’s needed.

PRO TIP: THESE CONVERSATIONS CAN BE AWKWARD IN THE BEGINNING. MAKE IT OKAY FOR YOUR TEAM TO SAY “I’M IN OVER MY HEAD”AND NORMALIZE ADJUSTING PRIORITIES. LLEWELLYN AND I BOTH KNOW THAT THE ONLY REASON THIS WORKS FOR BOTH OF US IS WHEN IT WORKS WITHIN HER BOUNDARIES.

5. Empathy – Things change, our superpower is to adapt. We created a company culture that, when Llewellyn’s babysitter got sick and she was going to need to miss a team meeting, our response was: Bring your kids with you, we have granola bars at the office. Couldn’t we all use a little more understanding in our lives? Is it distracting when kiddos are in meetings? Yes, of course it is. But is it really that big of a deal? Nope!

PRO TIP: ALL EMPLOYEES BENEFIT FROM EMPATHY. MAKE THIS THE NORM, NOT THE EXCEPTION IN YOUR COMPANY. WHEN THIS HAS BECOME THE COMPANY CULTURE, YOUR OTHER EMPLOYEES ARE EAGER TO BRIDGE GAPS WHEN THEIR COLLEAGUE NEEDS A LITTLE EXTRA HELP. IT’S IMPORTANT TO BE HONEST AND REALISTIC FOR WHEN IT’S OKAY FOR KIDS TO BE AT WORK, AND WHEN IT TRULY ISN’T. DOES IT DISRUPT OUR MEETINGS WHEN THERE ARE 3 LITTLES PLAYING LEGOS? IT SURE DOES. IS IT CATESTROPHIC? NO. IS IT APPROPRIATE FOR IT TO HAPPEN AT EVERY SINGLE TEAM MEETING? ALSO NO.

6. Appropriate Responsibilities – Having an employee who doesn’t work traditional office hours can be inconvenient, so it’s important to assign responsibilities that work within the limitations.

PRO TIP: MOST BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION TASKS CAN BE DONE ANY TIME OF THE DAY. OPERATIONS IS A GREAT PLACE FOR A WORKING PARENT TO THRIVE, WHILE MAINTAINING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES. WE ALSO HAVE A VERY SHORT LIST OF NON-NEGOTABLE TASKS THAT HAVE TO GET DONE, NO MATTER WHAT: PAYROLL AND INVOICES. ANYTHING ELSE ON LLEWELLYN’S LIST CAN GET DEPRIORATIZED OR DELEGATED TO ANOTHER EMPLOYEE. AND WE HAVE 2 OTHER EMPLOYEES WHO KNOW HOW TO DO BOTH OF THESE TASKS, IF NEEDED.

7. Embracing Imperfection – It’s inevitable: Llewellyn’s kiddos WILL interrupt her meetings. We need to normalize being human at work and lean into the fact that every one of us needs different tools to show up as our full selves at work. Nobody cares that I need contacts to see my screen and write this article. Llewellyn stepping away to refill snacks should be just as accepted.

PRO TIP: I USED TO BE SO AFRAID OF THIS APPROACH COMING OFF AS UNPROFESSIONAL. TURNS OUT: TWO OF OUR LARGEST CLIENTS ARE ALSO WORKING PARENTS WHO HAVE GREATLY APPRECIATED THE ABILITY TO HAVE THEIR KIDDOS IN THE BACKGROUND OF OUR WORK MEETINGS. MANY TIMES, THIS MORSEL OF UNDERSTANDING AND OVERCOMING IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONTINUING TO MOVE A PROJECT FORWARD OR CANCELLING THE MEETING & STALLING PROGRESS. WE ARE EACH IMPERFECT, DOING OUR BEST IN THE WORLD. LET’S MAKE ROOM FOR THIS TO BE OKAY.

8. Create Growth Opportunities – As I mentioned, Operations is a great place for a part time working parent to plug into an organization. An employee probably won’t stick around to check the mail and renew insurance policies for years on end. It’s simply not interesting. We have evolved Llewellyn’s responsibilities AND COMPENSATION at the same rate as we would a full-time employee.

PRO TIP: THERE IS ALWAYS AN OPERATIONAL IMPROVEMENT OR EXPANSION TO BE DONE. FOR US, RECENTLY, IT WAS A FULL RE-WRITE OF OUR EMPLOYEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES – AN UPDATE TO THE SAME DOCUMENTS THAT LLEWELLYN CREATED WHEN WE HIRED OUR 2ND EMPLOYEE.

9. Think Long Term – Llewellyn’s responsibilities have expanded and contracted to accommodate the changes in her family. When we learned about baby #3, we focused her responsibilities to the non-negotiable list mentioned above. And now, as Llewellyn’s kiddos grow up, get into school, and gain independence, we’re increasing her hours and she’s even doing some client-facing projects!!

PRO TIP: YOUR OTHER EMPLOYEES ARE WATCHING! LLEWELLYN’S COLLEAGUES HAVE FAMILIES IN THEIR FUTURE. WE’RE SHOWING THEM THAT THEY WILL HAVE A MEANINGFUL FUTURE AT VISIONALITY THROUGH THE WHOLE PROCESS.

Real talk: making accommodations to support working parents pays multitudes in employee recruitment and retention, sadly because it’s so unique. True, accommodations “cost money” – they do! None of this happens for free. But recruitment and turnover are my biggest overhead expenses. Making accommodations for parents is an incredibly cost effective way to attract and retain top talent, to create a company where people build careers. It also benefits your other employees, and frankly: it’s the human thing to do.