Work Goes Back to School – Adding Childcare at the Office

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When I first started my career, about twenty years ago, many companies were starting to bring childcare into the office. They had a designated caregiver in the building and encouraged workers to drop in and see children. That perk has diminished as caregiving costs increased exponentially.

According to NBC News, a March 2018 report from Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group, “the national average cost for child care is nearly $8,700 a year. Single parents pay nearly 36 percent of their income for child care expenses for one child, while married couples pay 10 percent.”

When I was in Portland, the cost was much higher. I recall paying more in one year of daycare for my 15-month old child than I did for two years of college; it was nearly $20,000.

child care and work can workThese high costs put most parents in a bind. In addition, to needing daycare for young children, parents pay for care for kids before and after school. But for kids over five years old, the biggest expenditure is summer camp. Here in Denver, they tend to run around $300 per week. Many times, those camps aren’t convenient either in location or hours. For example, one rock-n-roll camp ran from 10:30 a.m. to noon – not exactly times parents can accommodate … even if it sounded fun.

So, childcare can be unaffordable and inconvenient.

ElevatePoint got creative about childcare

My family circumstances changed this summer. My wonderful mother-in-law, who lived in town, had to move away suddenly. Counting on her for a couple of days occasionally as well as help picking up and dropping off was gone.

My husband and I thought that perhaps I should go to part-time, trying to rethink what was good for our daughter and our budget.

Rob Colwill, CEO of ElevatePointThat’s when ElevatePoint got creative. My manager and CEO, Rob Colwill, suggested bringing my daughter in so I could keep working at ElevatePoint and go to part-time. Heading into the office every day would help me understand what was happening in the office (and keep meetings) and keep working for ElevatePoint. But what about childcare?

“Bring Millie in. Let her sit in a cube – it’ll be fine,” Rob said.

In fact, both founders – Rob and Bryan Schoening, Chief Product Officer – have been super supportive. And everyone else has, too.

Really the only objection to the idea was me.

All about my kiddo

My daughter Millie has many great qualities – she’s giving, loving, kind, caring, funny, great at math, and more. But for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll tell you about her challenges – why I was afraid to bring her into the office every day for a few hours a day.

Millie has a lot of energy. In fact, years ago her kindergarten teacher told us that typically he sees that type of energy in boys. Her energy hasn’t dissipated over the years. My fear was that she’d be running around the office shouting, “I’m bored!”

My husband is a systems engineer and I work on computers a lot; so our kiddo is a chip off the old block, which means she can be glued to electronic devices. At home, Millie has strict times when she can play on electronic devices. (Minecraft is one of her favorites.) She can’t access the WiFi before or after a certain time. We control the iPad so she doesn’t spend all day watching it. My fear is that she’d be glued to an electronic device while I worked, instead of keeping up with reading and writing.

Millie also tends to speak her mind, quickly and effortlessly, without thinking. At school, she’s gotten in trouble for yelling when she thinks kids are getting away with something. My fear was that she’d tell off someone, such as my boss, in the heat of the moment.

I was pleasantly surprised.

My daughter loved work

changing child care and work to workAt first, I was giving her assignments related to my work. She found out more about marketing and writing, as well as intranets. But that’s not where the success was. Just being has brought out the best in my daughter.

Every single fear I had didn’t come true.

Millie didn’t run around the office. Instead, she slowed down her pace. In fact, work had a great influence on how she conducts herself.  While in the office, she focused on reading and writing, completing assignments given to her.

She didn’t tell anyone off. Instead, she was thoughtful – providing treats to the workers or walking around occasionally to see if people needed food. In fact, during non-work hours, she talked about what we could bake or bring in to help people at ElevatePoint.

After she completed projects, then she watched her iPad and because she was so engaged, it was less than 30 minutes per day.

Work loved my daughter

More than that, ElevatePoint people were happy to have her. I had more than a few people tell me Millie brought joy to the office. They liked hearing her laugh. They enjoyed interacting with her. Our CEO, Rob – who has three older kids – enjoyed talking with her every day. Rich, one of our intranet advisors with younger kids loved getting snacks from her. Rachel, our director of Operations who has two kids only slightly younger, had discussions with her regularly.

I’ve learned more about my co-workers through their conversations with my kiddo.

I’m more complete, too

Sure, getting into the office has been more challenging. Occasionally, Millie interrupts me to ask a question. But in general, it’s been a joy for me, too.

There are many benefits from having my kiddo here:

  • I’ve increased my employee engagement
  • I’m more loyal to ElevatePoint
  • I’m even more connected to my co-workers
  • I’m a better parent, too

Employee engagement might be a no brainer, but if you’re from company that can afford to be creative and try new solutions – why not?!

As for being more loyal and connected, I’m really lucky. One manager – Mike Winslow, a corporate lawyer in charge of a communications team – told me that the best companies let employees bring their “whole selves” to work. When Mike said it, he meant that people have hobbies and interests at home they can bring to work to find more satisfaction.

kids and work mixingBy bringing Millie with me to work, ElevatePoint let me bring more of my whole self to work. I even felt like more of a whole self at work.

I know what she’s up to, can direct her to do some work, and leave feeling like a good mom and a good worker. It’s hard to do both, sometimes, as moms know.

I have enough time to even do things with her in the afternoon, like go the Denver Nature and Science Museum or take her and a friend to a trampoline park.

Best of all, I actually know my daughter better. Above, I listed some of the challenges – where as a parent I can get hung up. But having her here every day with a smile and offering snacks made me proud of her generosity, reminded me of what a fantastic kid she is, and helped increase expectations of her.

How to introduce this into your work

If you’re considering a program like this for Take Your Kids to School or bringing children into the workplace next year, I have a few suggestions:

  • Give your kids their own space. Millie sat a cubicle we all referred to as her office. She brought in blankets to make forts, papers, pencils, books, and more to keep her occupied.
  • Make them accountable for things – work assignments, a clean cube, etc. This includes helping them understand rules, such as they can’t interrupt meetings or talk with people on the phone.
  • Enable positive interaction between your kids and co-workers. What are your kids’ strengths? Consider them, asking your kids to oversee something that’s good for them and your colleagues. My daughter was the snack giver, maybe yours can help bring pencils or paper to people who need it. Although, who doesn’t like getting random snacks during the day?
  • Keep tabs on them. Check in every so often to make sure they’re doing what they said they’d do.
  • It’s okay to let your co-workers see you parent. One, many of them are parents, too. But if this bothers you, I’ll be honest – this was what worried me the most – that I would somehow mess up as a parent in front of my co-workers. Instead, I think my pals at work got to see a more complete version of me. I’m someone loves coaching writing and reading more than math and really likes giving my daughter random hugs during the day. In fact, through my daughter’s care and concern about my co-workers and perhaps my love for Millie, they understand me a little better.
  • Treat it as an experiment where mistakes will happen. When Rob and I first discussed the idea of Millie coming, I admitted I wasn’t sure it would work. But Rob pressed me. “Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” That idea of finding another solution helped me take the plunge.
  • Have a backup plan. If things don’t go well at work, have something lined up your kids can do instead. Maybe work can negotiate with you working from home more.
  • Don’t shy away from childcare; instead, discuss rules. For example, there are probably optimal age ranges. For example, most companies only allow children nine years and older to come to Bring Your Child to Work Day because they have more maturity.

Back to school

Here it is – the last day. Millie’s about to go back to school Monday. She’s been crying because she’s enjoyed it so much here. The gang brought her in donuts and a balloon, thanked her for her time, and more. Hugs have been given.

I feel teary, too. Next week, I’ll work without my sidekick – as she’s now called around the office. It’s enriched my life, expanding what I think is possible. It’s also enriched Millie’s life. It’s even made ElevatePoint more of a home.

Rob last week turned to me as he heard Millie laughing to say, “Sometimes, I wish we could have kids in here all the time.”

I agree.

Other ways to increase employee engagement

Figuring out a win-win for childcare at the office is important to employee engagement. There are other ideas that may work for your organization.

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