How to Fix the Back to School Disaster for Working Parents

How to Fix the Back to School Disaster for Working Parents

Stop managing people, and start managing the work.

Elected officials are demanding schools reopen and kids physically go ‘back to the classroom ’ this fall. Unfortunately, resurgent Covid-19 means new outbreaks and an unlikely return to school as we know it, leaving working parents in a no-win situation: working from home while managing their kids e-learning.

Parents of school age kids find themselves pulled in multiple directions with the stress of schoolwork competing with their bosses and managers’ at work. The educational needs of their children are in direct conflict with the rules and regulations of work: meetings coincide with Zoom classes, while homework questions interrupt the work day. And ‘recess’ is now parent-supervised.

But it’s not only working parents who feel this overwhelming stress.

Last week’s Harvard Business Review points out managers feel out of control and “managers who cannot ‘see’ their direct reports struggle to trust their employees are indeed working…. and develop an unreasonable expectation that those team members be available at all times… causing more job stress.”

With millions of employees, those lucky enough to have a job, now working from home, managers are trying to wrest back control by monitoring how and when people are working, leaving employees demoralized.

And therein lies the problem. For the past 75 years, managers and human resources departments have been primarily focused on managing people at the expense of effectively managing the work. Though not a Covid-specific issue, Covid is shining a glaring spotlight on the problem.

For business leaders, the solution is clear, but not easy. It’s not a technology problem; rather it requires an organization to make a deep cultural and adaptive change.

For business and people to thrive, working parents need three things:


1. Total clarity of what is expected (not being on call 24/7 for managers who don’t clearly communicate goals).

2. Complete autonomy to work when, where, and how they can best deliver on those goals (which may be before 7 a.m. or between 9 p.m. and midnight).

3. Accountability to agreed upon measurable results, with managers focused solely on that—not on attending endlessly unproductive ‘catch up’ Zoom meetings to check in on people to make sure they’re working.

In short, managers need to stop managing people, and start managing the work.

The future of work, during and post-Covid, is built on a foundation where each person is held accountable to measurable results, and each person is autonomous, making choices every day about the most effective and efficient way to deliver results for their employer.

In a work culture built on a foundation of accountability and autonomy, people are where they need to be, when they need to be, to deliver results. That might be in the office, at a home office, on a video call, or emailing at 6am — whatever it takes, but they are also free to help their kids with school during the day as needed – without feeling guilty. (Or take the dog for a walk. Or power nap. Or run to the grocery store.)

Weighing the risks and benefits of COVID-back-to-school is overwhelming and has left many working parents with great anxiety, uncertainty and stress about their schedule. But there is another way.

Autonomy to decide when, where, and how to work, and being held accountable to results is a win for everyone.

Get more of Thompson’s management advice in the webinar TCB Talks: Future of Work