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Working from home while looking after children or aging parents, Canadians doing double duty during the COVID-19 crisis are striving to make it all work.

Without their usual child care and eldercare supports, parents of young children take turns, or tackle their work once the kids have gone to bed, says Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of research organization Vanier Institute of the Family.

Parents of teenagers tend to get up before dawn, and “work like crazy” while they have unfettered access to Internet bandwidth and the fridge, Ms. Spinks says. People caring for disabled or aged family members work in bursts around care needs.

It’s why her organization has made flexibility a priority. "From an employer’s perspective, the people on my team are all working, but they have full autonomy to figure out the best way to work,” she said.

While millions are not working as a result of business shutdowns during the crisis, many of those who have continued to work have shifted to working from home. Approximately 4.7 million Canadians who do not usually work from home did so during the week of March 22 to 28, according to Statistics Canada.

Flexible or reduced work hours have been the most common accommodations employers are offering, according to a recent report from the Conference Board of Canada. With schools and child care centres closed, day programs for dependent adults cancelled and regular home-care services for ill or disabled family members reduced, “millions of Canadians are feeling the pinch to balance competing demands of work and family,” the Conference Board said.

“As an employer, we do have a duty to accommodate due to family status,” said the Vanier Institute’s Ms. Spinks. “This [pandemic] has just magnified how many people have family responsibilities, that those family responsibilities are 24/7 and that you can’t assume the resources people rely on are always going to be there.”

CBC figure skating commentator Pj Kwong, who helps care for her 93-year-old mother-in-law at home after the family pulled her out of a COVID-affected long-term home in Toronto, says the flexibility to work odd hours makes it manageable. And, for the time being, there are no live events to cover.

“So if I have to do my work at night, or if I have to do my work early in the morning, it’s absolutely worth it for our family to have Mama with us.” She schedules Facebook Live broadcasts around her mother-in-law’s nap times, or has another family member swing in with caregiving.

Organizations recognize the pressures employees are under as they struggle to balance work and family demands through the COVID-19 crisis and are factoring this into their recovery plans, The Conference Board said in its report. A recent survey of 185 organizations found that 78 per cent of employers are considering how they can better accommodate employees with family responsibilities even after the crisis has passed.

For instance, Ms. Spinks said, “employers are going to reflect on productivity and performance and whether or not remote working is a good thing,” and employees who have managed to be effective working from home during the pandemic “are going to want to keep doing it, at least part-time.”

Sandra Lavoy, an Ottawa-based regional vice-president with staffing and recruiting agency Robert Half Canada Inc., is among those who suddenly became remote workers overnight. The company sent its entire global work force of more than 10,000 workers home in March. The transition has been made easier by the company’s provision of a host of resources and virtual events to encourage connectedness, she said.

For those who are less tech-savvy, the company offers pointers on how to conduct meetings through video platforms such as Zoom or Facebook Live.

For those working from home – with spouses working within earshot, children who also need access to household devices for virtual school work or family members with health care needs – management’s directive, during the COVID-19 crisis, “is just give me the best that you can today.”

For those feeling socially isolated, Robert Half Canada holds virtual coffee hours every day at 2 p.m. and “virtual happy hours” every Friday afternoon.

Everyone looks forward to these events, Ms. Lavoy said. “I went to last week’s happy hour and I think we had almost every employee in our office.”

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