There is a single topic that has come up most frequently and most urgently on Page Conversations calls over the past six months: the impact the pandemic is having on culture, driven by lockdowns and the societal unrest that these crises have both revealed and unleashed. CCOs are acutely focused on how these disruptive and even traumatic events are affecting the people in our organizations. 

This week’s Page Conversation took this discussion to a new and even deeper level. Led by Bey-Ling Sha, Dean of the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, the panel included Christine D’Amico, founder and CEO of San Diego-based family learning company OpenMinds, and Page member Ryan James, CCO of 30,000-employee Oregon-based daycare and early education provider KinderCare. They and other participants provided not just communications expertise, but professional knowledge of child development, while considering gendered and racialized dimensions of current realities. 

The discussion explored challenges facing parents as they deal with the psychological impact of the crisis on their children, their families and themselves – challenges that are amplified by uncertainty about kids returning to school in the Fall. “There is fear of letting children out, but parents are also overwhelmed by having them home,” Christine said. In her research done before the pandemic, she was looking at parental impact on children’s social and emotional competency and learning – including the impact of depressive family systems and low emotional control, phenomena that COVID-19 has exacerbated. “For everyone today, daily life is financially, professionally and emotionally stressful.”

Practical solutions for the shorter term are varied, with flexibility for workers being the most impactful. For the longer term, deeper changes are needed in both organizations and in society. 

When discussing practices that CCOs and their organizations could explore, Christine explained how, at OpenMinds, they have created YouTube videos of things for kids to do, and are putting together an Instagram account to support parents. “Every parent has said that it helps so much to tell their story, to be heard.”

One participant described how her pharmaceutical company is doing “a lot of listening and playing back what we’re hearing.” Some can’t wait to get back to the office, while others find that impossible – and are asking what the company can do to support them. “It’s a challenge – to create community for those in the office, while also developing resources for workers at home. We need to be flexible, and we can’t expect our people to be heroes.”

Among those challenges for companies looking to create childcare support for their employees are legal and licensing requirements for such services. When it comes to what happens on communication channels set up to help workers, there are HIPPA constraints on information sharing, while state-level regulations may require reporting of potential domestic violence – instances of which are on the rise.

Ryan described how KinderCare switched from its initial online tools for mass audiences to platforms like WebEx and Slack that permit focused topics and individual interactivity. He moderates monthly group meetings, opening them up for Q&A at the end.

At a deeper level, there are the continuing disruptions resulting from the broader societal awakening following the killing of George Floyd. As Ryan noted, “KinderCare had to speak up, and we had to think more deeply about diversity and inclusion going forward.” The company’s Inclusion Services Team is not only working on company policy, but also engaging with parents and children to help them work through these further traumatic changes.

“This will be with us for a while,” Ryan noted. Indeed, while previous calls have addressed the immediate care-and-feeding of employees during the crisis – even going so far as to describe this as “the year of living empathetically” – this week’s discussion acknowledged that CCOs and their organizations are likely to be dealing not just with short-term emergency conditions, but with protracted emotional and developmental consequences of crises and traumas that are likely to play out over many years.

All of this means that every organization is finding that “management” has taken on increasingly psychological and sociological dimensions. We’re no longer just dealing with the beliefs and feelings of employees. Now, we’re being pulled into something akin to family therapy. “Every family has issues,” Christine noted. “What matters most is parents staying connected to children. In our research, that made all the difference. If parents shut down emotionally, that has a big impact on their kids.”

On all these fronts, there is a premium on coming up with creative solutions. Christine shared this guide on Padlet for creating supportive family learning environments. Feel free to add to this so it benefits from a broader set of perspectives.

“People are resilient,” concluded Bey-Ling. We will come out of this more or less okay. But coming onto the other side of this crisis isn’t ‘getting back to normal.’ This will be a new reality – a changed world on multiple dimensions, including increased awareness of social injustice.”