Managing Staff and Preparing for Maryland’s Return to School

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Will the kids go back to school, or won’t they? It has been an important topic of conversation recently. I am not here with an opinion on which one of those is the right decision. I am, however, going to say that we need to learn from the lessons of the original stay-at-home order. It was unprecedented. Schools were not ready for virtual learning, just as many businesses were underprepared for teleworking. Many of us were stuck at home juggling work and teaching our children whatever grade that we were unequipped to teach. Companies need to start preparing now, so we are not blindsided by that reality again. So let’s discuss the possibilities.

Let’s say the kids don’t go back to school. Workers have been reentering the workforce, and that leaves an abundance of unsupervised children. It is my belief the childcare will need to pivot to include school-aged children in their programs. They will need to set up rooms to facilitate the online classroom. Homeschooling is one thing, but the teacher’s union won’t allow for their jobs to be deemed unnecessary. I’m mentioning this because it would be highly unlikely for the government to fund both childcare and teachers for an extended period. Some of our front line workers will have to make tough decisions on paying for childcare or assisting their children with telelearning. That is unless we change the way we do business. 

We need to do our best to become more flexible to assist our employees. Employee management was heading in this direction, and nature just rushed the evolution of this need. There are a few ways that a business can attack this problem. One is to provide employees with the flexibility to continue teleworking for the future. Companies will have to invest in new technology to make this effective. Cloud storage has become more critical than ever. The “paper” company won’t survive in this climate. As we were making changes, we ensured that the solutions addressed the problem as a whole. Reasonable solutions don’t just solve one aspect or rearranged the order of the problem. One investment we made was a VOIP phone system. The phone system saves us money on unused phone lines in unoccupied desks. This feature allows us to access our phone lines from anywhere, including our homes. Organizations need to start thinking about how to best communicate with customers. The ability to take calls from everywhere presents the ability for companies to operate at any time.

Another solution that may help in this scenario is the creation of in-house childcare. This easier said than done, as these create added costs for teachers and effort to obtain licensing. If your company is large enough, you have space and need your employees at their desks; this could be a creative way of ensuring they come to work. I can see this working better for larger companies, and companies that can outlay the cash. For example, there are too few children for this to work for us, but it may be an option for you. It would be an excellent perk and could attract people to your company. We can assist you in finding the right candidates to teach your kids.

Option two is a modified school schedule that includes a combination of in-school and virtual learning. We face a similar issue as above with the need to assist our children with telelearning or pay for childcare to instruct our kids. This scenario provides companies with an interesting option to provide flexibility to the workers by giving them a schedule that mirrors that of their school-aged children. However, this all changes if you have multiple children on multiple schedules. An idea for the schools to address this is to do the split based on last names so that family members will have the same schedule, or by address (which would save money on busing) for households with integrated children. This method would guarantee parents to work onsite for one of the weeks. Parents could possibly work both weeks if there are older children that could be responsible for the younger students. With employees working an A/B schedule, it would make sense to cross-train employees to always have coverage for the jobs that need to be done in-house. Cross-training will also assist in ensuring you’re covered if an employee has to quarantine. The skill profiles for your positions may change. We are here to support you in identifying talent that fits that mold.

The last of the main options under discussion is that children are welcomed back to school as normal. I believe this is the most unlikely of the three, so it is important to start planning now on how we will address this problem. The main reason is that it inevitably will resort back to one of the other options unless there are major policy changes. The CDC suggests a two-week quarantine if exposed to COVID. That means that if one person in the classroom tests positive, the entire class is sent home to… telelearn. I would not spend much time on a plan for this, because if the kids go back to school as normal, it’s business as usual. That does not mean this option should just be brushed under the rug. There has been a precedent set on how a pandemic could affect our businesses. We should at least be thinking of contingencies to address issues like this as they arise. Companies that were set up for e-commerce have flourished where others have not. It’s time to make sure we are set up with the flexibility to adapt to all situations.

This blog has been two weeks in the making, and a lot of news has come out in this second week. A few counties have announced their plan for virtual learning, and the teacher’s union has voiced their opposition to returning to normal. Interestingly, this blog was intended to discuss the business approach to this problem, but I found myself analyzing the school’s approach in that quest. There are no wrong answers to this problem, as long as there is a strong plan in place. There are still many unanswered questions and a lot more information to collect, but the fact remains that time is running out on us to prepare. 

So ask yourself:

  • How did your business do during telework? 
  • Was your company profitable?
  • Were your employees distracted? 
  • How did they overcome those distractions? 
  • What infrastructure changes can you make now that will enhance all of the back to school decisions?

The fate of your business lies in your ability to prepare your company for the start of school. In whatever format it may be now. 

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Matt Sarant is a proud member of the Kennedy Services family. Kennedy Services is one of Maryland’s oldest independent, woman-owned staffing services, located in the heart of Baltimore City. Kennedy Services continues to be at the forefront of recruiting strategy to support businesses in flourishing during this pandemic.