Teleworking parents during COVID-19

UNICEF parents discuss the importance of parenting and strong families for children's well-being

Alexandros Semeloglou
Mother and son look at a computer
UNICEF/Saja Abdullah
03 June 2020

The Global Day of Parents, celebrated every year on June 1st, as well as the International Day of Families on May 15th, both established by UN resolutions, provide a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of parenting and strong families for children's well-being.

In that spirit, the shift to a more flexible working culture enables UNICEF employees to have better work-life harmony, to be better caregivers, as well as professionals, and to remain focused on the delivery of results, instead of face time in the office. 

We asked two parents, Binta Diallo, Human Resources Specialist from Haiti Country Office in Port-au-Prince, and Dr. Saja Abdullah, Chief of Health and Nutrition in Sudan Country Office, to tell us how they balance between supporting children and young people around the world at work and caring for their own at home. 

Flexible work already adopted before COVID-19 

Remote work had been adopted by UNICEF employees, long before COVID-19 introduced it as the new normal in our work routines. It has been an integral element of the Flexible Working Arrangements, a set of policies in place since June 2019, aiming to offer a modern, flexible and family-friendly work environment, in which our colleagues can better balance their personal and professional lives. 

Woman on treadmill, her uses weights
UNICEF/Saja Abdullah
Dr. Saja Abdullah, exercising at home with her son. She can now spend more time with her three sons and be more present for moments that matter.

When asked to reflect on how working from home has affected her role as a parent, as well as her family, particularly during the global pandemic of COVID-19, Binta Diallo says, "My physical presence at home during those days make a difference on my morale and the family well-being because we can spend more time together.” 

Adding, "At a personal level, being a mother of three with my youngest who is 10 years old and disabled with very special needs and working in a non-family duty station, I have used both the teleworking and the compressed work schedule.”

Dr. Saja Abdullah, Chief of Health and Nutrition in the Sudan country office, believes the flexible working arrangements are very comprehensive, supportive and accommodating to the staff needs, and promote well-being. 

Woman with pink hijab working at a laptop
UNICEF/Binta Diallo
Binta Diallo working from home with her kids.

As a mother of three, she especially appreciates the benefits of these policies, as she can be there when her son needs support with his school homework and learning.

When asked about the impact of these policies on her family environment and overall well-being, particularly during the current pandemic crisis, she is positive.

"Teleworking during the time of COVID-19 was extremely useful, and although it has its own challenges, it contributed a lot to support me in standing beside my family while continuing to deliver for children," she says.

Binta agrees.

"The flexible working arrangements contribute to making us an employee of choice by offering a family-friendly working environment,” she says. “They also demonstrate that, while working to improve the lives of families around the world, we also ensure we take care of our own staff’s families.”

My physical presence at home during those days make a difference on my morale and the family well-being because we can spend more time together.

Binta Diallo

Managers can help parents and families thrive 

The role of supervisors is crucial for the implementation of these policies. Binta recalls how she was first given the opportunity by her former country Representative Bo Viktor Nyland to make use of flexible work when her duty station was declared non-Family.

"At that time, he allowed me to telework whenever I was home for a visit so that I could spend more time with my family,” she says. “In my current situation, again in a non-Family Duty Station, my current supervisor is also family-friendly oriented, and he has allowed me to exercise both teleworking and compressed work. When I go on R&R I can stay one or two extra days to do teleworking. That way, I can spend more time at home."  

Saja hopes to see more orientation for employees and managers regarding the use and benefits of teleworking, another similar policies. This could lead to an increase of flexible work among UNICEF employees.

Compressed working hours 

Compressed work schedule, or “ten working days in nine”, is another arrangement available to UNICEF parents. With this arrangement, UNICEF colleagues can work extra time in nine days and take the tenth one off.

"When I practice the compressed work schedule, I’m able to spend long weekends and use the extra regular day off to attend my kids’ doctor’s appointments and important school meetings, etc. Being able to work from home just allows me to be there when I am needed by my family," says Binta. 

Binta Diallo continues.

"The situation we are in now, where we are all teleworking, demonstrates that UNICEF was ahead on the game by encouraging the use of such policies. Any staff who wants to use Flexible Working Arrangements must know what the policy entails because you must be committed to work and be productive. [...] I would encourage supervisors to be open-minded and just make the expectations clear when they authorize the use of flexible working arrangements. When these are used efficiently, it is a win-win situation, where both the employee and the employer don’t have anything to lose but rather everything to gain. To name but a few: it improves morale and well-being for the employee, and attracts talent, increases staff retention and improves working environment for the employer.”

It is evidenced that these flexible policies increase Staff well-being, which in turn results in overall increase of productivity. But flexible work has more positive impact than the obvious. Flexible work can be especially beneficial for colleagues with disabilities. They eliminate long commuting hours for people with limited mobility and give the option of a quiet work environment for neuro-diverse colleagues that need silence to be productive.

Woman in black hijab sits at her home office
UNICEF/Saja Abdullah
Dr. Saja Abdullah teleworking from home.

Teleworking during the time of COVID-19 was extremely useful, and although it has its own challenges, it contributed a lot to support me in standing beside my family while continuing to deliver for children.

Dr. Saja Abdullah

UNICEF, as the leading organization in supporting children and young people globally, reinforces these values among its employees. These policies enable parents to deliver results for every child globally while delivering results in their own household.

ED Henrietta Fore made this very clear, when she asked from all managers to approve teleworking requests by default, and even encourage their supervisees to make use of the Flexible Working Arrangements.

As we commemorate the International Day of Families, and the Global Day of Parents, let's continue making use of these valuable tools that support our employees with their family, childcare, and other caregiving responsibilities, towards achieving a healthier and happier workforce, more committed in supporting children and young people.

This article was originally published on ICON.