America is finally going hybrid. I’m talking schools, not cars.
Most years, “back to school” conversations happen in August. At the very earliest, end of July. This year, it’s all we can think about and it’s only July 10th. We’re not thinking about fresh notebooks, sharpened pencils, and first day of school photos. We’re wondering what school will even look like this year. No matter where you live, this won’t be a normal ‘back to school’ situation.
Here’s what we know so far. Each school district has different considerations given size, facilities, student population, and other factors. Schools are facing immense pressure, and often competing or conflicting guidance, from a variety of stakeholders, including: local, state, and federal government, parents, teachers, students, staff, corporations, and medical experts. The vast majority of school districts have not announced plans for the fall yet, but given the above, we can safely assume that school reopenings will be varied and inconsistent.
The majority of schools that have announced plans have said they will go to a hybrid model, combining in person days and online learning. That will likely be the reality for most schools. Each model - in person, remote, or hybrid - raises questions. Some of those questions are universal. How will schools keep staff, students and parents safe? What happens when cold + flu season hits this fall - will kids be out for extended periods? How many cases of COVID19 will close down a school and for how long? Perhaps most troubling: what do working parents do when they’re yet again (or still) home with kids out of school while trying to also work?
When companies, schools and daycares closed and/or started going remote in March, many companies took a flexible approach. In the best cases, that meant telling caregivers not to worry about traditional hours and to do the work whenever they could. In practice, that’s meant parents working before dawn, well into the night, and every weekend. By no means is this the fault of employers. None of us knew how the situation would unfold or how long it would last. However, it’s now clear that we won’t be ‘back to normal’ in September, and that means it’s time for more sustainable solutions for both employers and caregivers. No matter how flexible your company is, employees cannot realistically do two jobs simultaneously.
Employers are currently attempting to figure out what reality their caregivers will face come the school year. Complicating matters is the fact that the answer won’t be the same across your workforce. If you’re an employer in NYC for example, you may have employees in all of the boroughs, NJ, CT, and NY suburbs. You’re not only dealing with different districts, you’re dealing with different states. Because reopening plans vary by school, and in some cases age, individual families might be looking at 2 (or more) totally different systems this fall. It’s a nightmare for employees and employers alike. And that’s only the scheduling issues.
The word on everyone’s mind when we think about this chaos? Burnout. As one HR rep told me this week “I cannot put a full time nanny and tutor inside the home of every parent - but without that, I don’t see how we don’t face massive burnout.” Burnout has come to cover the entire spectrum from mental health to stress to people leaving the workforce (voluntarily or involuntarily). In the era of COVID19, ‘burnout’ is the graceful way to say ‘we’re f’d’.
The situation for caregivers and employers is continuing to evolve and no one has answers yet. Many companies are planning an “optional reopening” or are going “remote first.” That is part of the answer, but it doesn’t solve the caregiver conundrum: even if we’re remote, we still cannot work and parent at the same time. There is no one answer because the problem is continually changing. Solving for that is going to require a lot of creativity and a willingness to experiment. We also need to collaborate and openly share what’s working - and what’s not. Sure, there are nuances, but for the most part, all working parents and all companies are wrestling with the same challenges right now. That, in and of itself, is a unique situation. Let’s leverage this commonality to build answers together.
Are you an educator, employer, parent, or concerned citizen. Perfect. We want to hear your ideas. At Kunik, we’re working with a wide range of parents, experts, and employers to develop solutions, and we welcome your thoughts. In the words of my 4th grade teacher Mr. Kimball “if you’re not sharing your ideas, you’re not being a team player.” Accepting ‘burnout’ isn’t going to fly. The stakes are too high and the patchwork of workaround solutions is no longer working (it never was, actually). We’re all on the same team for this one, let’s play like it.