It’s no secret that Covid-19 has changed the way we work. Companies are rethinking how to operate in the ‘new normal’ and to foster work-life balance with a hybrid workforce. As we all navigate the “return to the workplace” model, the secret to success is all about people and making work, work better for people.

The pressures working women experience balancing work and life, have been exacerbated by the pandemic, as essential support systems have fallen apart. Many women who work a full-time job, now also need to take care of their parents, children and an entire household, round-the-clock, without services such as eldercare support, childcare centres or schools .

According to a survey by McKinsey, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the Covid-19 crisis than men’s jobs. The World Economic Forum also reported that Covid-19 has widened the gender gap by a generation, “women will have to wait 135.6 years – up from 99.5 years in 2020 – to achieve overall parity with men”.

As leaders, we need to drive concerted efforts and arrive at innovative solutions to drive equity and ensure new ways of work to support women and men.

Companies have a responsibility to create great experiences for everyone – to connect people across departments so as to build community and to ensure equity of access to support, benefits and programmes.

How can companies provide support

Provide flexibility : An employee should feel supported to adjust his or her work hours around family obligations to maximise productivity and to help maintain a balance between home and work commitments. Maybe early morning meetings don’t work for employees with young children. Leaders need to pro-actively communicate flexible work-hours and train managers to support employees with home and work life. This will help employees to do their best work, be efficient and productive. It’s time to move to an outcomes-focused work experience versus one purely driven by face time.

Prioritise continued career development : No one should be at a disadvantage for taking time to care for family. Managers must be thoughtful and lead with empathy to support employees’ long-term careers. Having regular check- ins and development conversations will support career progression. Companies can hold virtual conferences, webinars or recorded training sessions to enhance employees’ growth skills development. Enabling managers with unconscious bias training so they recognise areas they may need to challenge their thinking will help bring more equity into opportunities for women. A number of firms across the country have adopted healthy working habits and initiatives that provide growth opportunities for their women employees.

Deliver family benefits : Employees need to know that their organisation cares about them and their family, especially after a crisis of this scale. Organisations can offer ways to reduce the burden on working parents by providing discounted insurance and healthcare benefits for employees’ families and similar plans for childcare. Online tutors and subscriptions to age-relevant online activities for children that will help relieve distance learning burdens for working mothers, are examples of ways in which firms can provide for working mothers. In an effort to make the employee feel like a part of the company at a time of uncertainty, the firm must make clear its commitment towards employees and their families.

Pace back to office only when comfortable : Safety is a big concern and getting back to the office environment can create anxiety for employees. Keeping in mind the requirements of women employees as the return to workplace is planned, will be very important. Providing employees the freedom to choose in this scenario will not only ease their worries, but also encourage a diversified work model. As with any family, different people have different needs and companies need to accommodate and support all employees as we navigate the future of work.

(The author is Senior Director, HR Business Partner - APJ, ServiceNow)