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Human Resources

Companies shift to give employees sense of balance

Human Resources
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The rules of workplace engagement have changed, especially for families.

It’s no longer taboo for a doorbell to ring, a dog to bark or a child to interrupt a Zoom call.

In fact, the growing presence of children in the workday has provided a creative outlet for Blackbaud employees, Chief People Officer Maggie Driscoll said.

The Blackbaud After School Program gives parents, students and mentors a chance to work together to get through the pandemic. Volunteers read stories, tutor, provide art lessons and other instruction to children. (Photo/Provided)Starting in September, the software company rolled out the pilot version of Blackbaud Afterschool Program, a series of live and on-demand videos to tutor, entertain and engage children of employees in the evenings.

“We created ASP knowing that our caregivers’ children will be going back to school whether hybrid or 100% virtual. So we took 30-plus days to create and curate a program to support our caregivers around mealtime and end of business time,” Driscoll said.

She hoped for the best when she sent out a company-wide casting call, and was blown away the company’s talent outside of work. While some offered tutoring in math, reading and history, others gave lessons on knitting and hosted live storybook readings for younger children. One executive walked children through how to nurture a fish tank.

Volunteers recorded 115 sessions, including 14 composed by Blackbaud customers like the S.C. Aquarium. By Thanksgiving, participants logged 380 hours watching the sessions, Driscoll said.

Sarah Simpson, senior manager, software development at Blackbaud, said that the afterschool program has been a gift during the pandemic.

“My daughter loves the program, and it has made me feel so much better about how she spends some of her downtime at home,” Simpson said. “Without siblings or playdates during the pandemic, this program provided a way for her to connect with other kids her age and enjoy socializing and learning at the same time.”

Driscoll has seen how hard it is for employees like Simpson to balance their jobs as the workday now blends with home life. Along the way, she has worked with managers to stress the importance of empathy and flexibility. For some that means bumping down to part-time hours while others have staggered their start and end times to help their children with school.

“They’re working 24/7 times two, and that’s not possible to sustain. Their day is being pulled constantly in breaks, whether it’s 15 minutes or half an hour. … I don’t think anyone has the 100% answer, but it has to start with realizing that we’re all struggling,” she said

Looking into 2021 and beyond, the company has rethought its in-office policies, creating formalized hybrid models where employees will have rotating schedules that allow them a few days in the office and others at home.

“They’ve earned the trust that they can deliver on the work and support each other and our clients,” Driscoll said. “So we have changed.”

BoomTown also has reconsidered its work-from-home polices as it’s on track for a record year, even with closing its physical office this spring.

The outcome’s been an eye opener for Julie Edwards, vice president of client success, who has always been pro-office. Even without the daily face-to-face interactions, she said it has done wonders for morale that employees can get in a run at lunch, do laundry between meetings and spend more time with their families.

“I’ve seen a change in some people who were moderately happy at BoomTown now tell me this is the happiest they’ve ever been because they have so much freedom. Some people are surprised how happy they are working from home,” she said.

Another positive of remote work is that it helps recruit and retain top talent.

“For a lot of them, having the flexible lifestyle is becoming more important than the feeling of coming into an office and being surrounded by other people,” Edwards said.

Some employees have even seized the opportunity to move away from downtown, such as to McClellanville, now that they don’t have to worry about the commute.

While BoomTown’s office will remain closed through June, leadership still has much to figure out for 2021. That includes how continue making investments in its culture while working remotely and solidifying a stronger remote onboarding plan for new hires.

In hindsight, Edwards said there could have been value in preparing the company for work-from-home scenarios so everyone could have figured out their space, routine and how to make it work pre-pandemic. The adjustment’s been especially hard for green employees who’ve neither held a full-time job nor worked remotely prior.

“But it’s great to let people test it out. They’re learning a lot about themselves,” she said.

Another company aiming to help struggling employees, particularly financially, is Science Applications International Corp., which has two North Charleston offices.

The Virginia-based company recently established the SAIC Charitable Foundation that will provide emergency funds to employees and their families enduring hardships because of the coronavirus and other disaster-related emergencies.

Amy Rall, senior vice president of SAIC’s Homeland and Justice Business Unit and president of the SAIC Charitable Foundation, understands the responsibility an employer has to its workforce and their health and safety.

“The SAIC Charitable Foundation represents the next step in our company’s ongoing actions to provide for our colleagues during this unprecedented and challenging time,” Rall said in a statement.

Throughout these times, Driscoll said it’s most important not to wait for workers to reach out but instead to ask proactively how managers can best help them.

“From our perspective, it’s what we can do to pay it forward further to our employees,” she said.

Reach Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.

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