Juggling Zoom meetings and remote work is difficult enough for single adults — let alone parents trying to manage the ins and outs of their kids’ virtual school routines during COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, said Melissa Nickel.
“I do not want my children just to survive, I want them to thrive,” Nickel, operations lead at Engenious Design, said of her decision to approach company leadership about launching an in-office program that facilitates virtual learning regimens for students of employees working onsite.
“That’s the hope of every parent at this moment, trying to understand this. So rather than looking at all the things I don’t like, I’m going to work to find a creative solution.”
Fortunately for Nickel, Engenious is a company that embodies outside-the-box thinking, she said.
“We can think about it like health insurance or the other benefits that we provide,” Nickel said, detailing an executive summary she submitted to Chris Justice, Engenious CEO — who himself has elementary school-aged children.
Click here to learn more about Engenious Design — a Prairie Village-based medical device design firm.
“He said, ‘Absolutely, go for it,’ he gave me the yes and I embarked [on the research] because we’re not in the education business,” she said, recalling research that drove the project forward over two-months of planning.
The company ultimately hired an in-house facilitator who helps parents manage their students’ class requirements — as outlined by their individual school districts — and facilities onsite learning in a socially distant set of unused offices-turned-classrooms, Nickel explained.
“There is a boost in productivity, but it’s also less stress on our team, because they don’t have to worry, ‘Oh, how am I going to be on this Zoom call and get my child set up on a Zoom call?’” Nickel said of immediate and obvious benefits to the program — which formally rolled out earlier this month and welcomed eight students, kindergarten through fifth grade.
“We try to get them outside every two hours to go have playtime, just to get the wiggles out,” she laughed, noting a key component of the program is realizing kids weren’t made to exist in offices.
“[My kids] call it, ‘School at Mom’s work,’ I think that most children are done with being home, just with their siblings. The ability to get out with their peers [has them] extremely excited.”
The program will be offered to employees working onsite on a semester-by-semester basis, she added.
“We’ve seen huge relief in our employees,” Nickel said. “We are a very family-friendly organization, but also just human. We realized that work-life balance is important and we wanted to create a space where we can do our work — but recognize the other important things that we have going on.”
And making sure the company has its employees backs is among the most important core values at Engenious, Nickel said.
“I think that that message has come across, not just for employees who have children, but for those that don’t,” she said. “We believe every aspect of our work matters. Not just in our work with our careers, but in our work with our families.”
As the needs of the modern workplace evolve, similar programs could become a mainstay in offices across the country as America works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Nickel predicted.
“We’ve already done the hard legwork, and until our world returns to a little bit of normal, I’d like to continue to offer this,” she said. “Flexibility is super important as we look at 2020 and maybe 2021. I think having the option and the ability to do this is a really positive thing.”