It’s hard to get work done when your officemates constantly want attention. Or need help with math. Or complain about being hungry, or bored … so bored.
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Juggling the demands of full-time worker and full-time caregiver and educator is challenging and draining. And many working parents aren’t looking forward to what might come this Fall when the school year starts.
One employer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is trying to relieve the pressure by quickly setting up a temporary childcare center for its employees.
The stress on working parents became apparent at the Broad Institute when it surveyed 2,700 of its employees and affiliates early in the pandemic. The survey found that the majority of parents were struggling to manage both their career and their children full-time at home.
“We found caregivers had huge anxiety and felt very overwhelmed,” said Frances Taplett, chief people officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a biomedical and genomic research center, which is also a large Covid-19 testing center.
During a meeting to discuss ways to help employees, the idea of opening a safe childcare facility was mentioned. Within eight days, parents were able to sign up for care. The facility, which is located a few blocks away from the research institute, opened in June, less than three weeks after the idea was first floated. Broad partnered with childcare provider Bright Horizons to open the center, which is run out of one of its existing facilities.
Teachers and parents get onsite Covid-19 testing every four days, with results usually coming back the next day. So far, there have been no positive cases at the childcare center.
Teachers always wear masks and the kids are grouped into small pods, with lots of hand washing throughout the day. Parents are required to acknowledge they are socially distancing in their everyday lives.
When sign-ups opened in June, 31 parents requested care within the first hour. The plan was to test the offering in June to evaluate demand. Now the company plans to keep it open until at least Labor Day.
The center takes infants to kids up to age seven. The cost of the care is heavily subsidized. Both employees who have returned to the office and those who are still working remotely from home can use the facility for up to three days a week. And if there’s a vacancy one day, a parent gets randomly selected to get an extra day that week.
“We are a nonprofit. We would love to provide something five days a week all summer long, but that was out of reach for us,” said Taplett.
Bright Horizons has seen more interest from companies that want to set up childcare facilities, according to CEO Stephen Kramer.
“Employers understand that their employees can’t work productively at home and also care for their children at the same time. Some are looking for employees to return to the workplace … others are looking for ways to solve childcare needs while their employees are still remote,” Kramer said in an email to CNN Business.
Bright Horizons also worked with the Mass General Brigham health system in Massachusetts to set up additional back-up daycare centers for its workers during the pandemic.
The response from the Broad Institute’s parents has been positive, but the initial feedback surprised Taplett. There were, of course, those who were grateful for some relief, but parents were also appreciative for what the facility meant for their kids.
“A huge number of parents said their child had been very sad and that when they went to the [childcare center] they got to be with little people their own age for the day,” she said. “The mental health of children is really important to our community.”
Taplett is sending her five-year-old daughter to the center next week and is looking forward to maximizing the time.
“I am going to have 8 to 5:30 totally uninterrupted for work and then I am going on a vacation so I will be ahead instead of behind.”
Postdoctoral fellow Inbal Benhar said she felt relief when Broad announced the childcare center.
Her lab was closed for about three months and she and her husband were both working at home with their 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twin boys.
“Having to adjust to working from home with the kids was not trivial, and it wasn’t always easy to get decent stretches of efficient, uninterrupted work,” she said in an email to CNN Business.
She signed her daughter up for care immediately. She attends three days a week.
“I do my best to arrange my schedule such that I make the best use of my time in terms of work when my daughter is at daycare, and have more available time to spend with her when she’s home.”