Last week, one of my favorite CK clients, Merrily from over at EEO Legal Solutions, reached out and asked for some help brainstorming on a tricky issue. I won’t get into the legal details – in large part because they seem horribly confusing and I don’t really understand them – but the gist is that she’s working on putting together a webinar to help employers make smart “reasonable accommodation” for pregnant workers. She was curious if I had any suggestions from a technological perspective.

***Note: All stock photos that come up for the search “pregnant worker” make the experience look really unpleasant. 

Realizing We’re the Exception

Why so much misery?!

Why so much misery?!

The challenges that face a shop like Commerce Kitchen aren’t the same as those that face a lot of employers, it turns out.  CK’s experience with pregnant employees is minimal, but happily for us, our employees are some of the most engaged people I know, and they hold themselves to high accountability standards without our oversight. But what happens when your pregnant employee isn’t as engaged? How do you provide her with reasonable accommodation and hold her accountable to still complete the work assigned to her? At CK accountability and engagement is a given in our staff, but it’s not that way for all employers.

Of course, in creative and white collar work, most jobs are measured by deliverables: managing client relationships through meetings, emails, and calls; delivering creative briefs; research and reporting. This is all work that can be done remotely, which jibes with a common request of the pregnant employee: the freedom to work from home or make up time during non-business hours. Other kinds of work are not nearly as flexible like manufacturing or cashiering at a fast food joint. Even a receptionist in a busy office is tied to being at a certain place at a certain time, so remote work would probably not be an alternative for her.

But for those of us in thought-work positions, allowing remote work can be a great way to offer pregnant employees some flexibility over the course of a pregnancy, so long as you manage to get it right from the beginning. At CK we have a few developers that don’t live in Denver (damned snowboarders!), so working with remote teams is part of our bread and butter.  Below are some suggestions on how to offer your staff the opportunity to shift some of their time to working out of the office.

Set Expectations

Pregnant at work.

Someone get this woman a pile of ibuprofen, stat!

This is not a tech solution, of course, but it’s critical to success. Your remote team member needs to know what she’s expected to do during the time that she’s not in the office. If you’re lucky, she already knows her job so well that she’ll be telling you what to expect. If that’s not the case, review with her the kind of work that she does in a given week, identify what pieces are the easiest to take home, and set deadlines and expectations around that work on a regular basis. It’s super easy to tell when an in-office employee is out of things to do. It’s a lot harder to tell when a remote worker is idle. Laying out what kind of work and how much of it needs to get accomplished from home is essential to success.

Get Face to Face, Virtually

Meetings are a regular part of almost any job, and you should make sure not to exclude your remote worker from those meetings. You may think you can just catch people up over email/or instant message, but intentions and details often get lost over non-spoken channels. If you have an employee who is remote for more than a day or two – say, the bedrest scenario I suggested above – make a point of having morning, face-to-face checkin in meetings daily. Just 10-15 minutes to review progress and layout goals for the new day will go a long way to making sure that the expectations above are understood and met.

Tools to Consider

  • Google Hangouts
    Free via Gmail, and included in any Google Apps integration, Hangouts allow you to see your remote team members, share screens, and have face to face conversations, so long as all computers involved have a webcam and microphone
  • WebEx and Go To Meeting
    These tools are massive, and often expensive, and so are only usually used by big companies. Is yours one of those companies?
  • Facetime
    The iPhone video phone call system would work if everyone has an iOS device. Which also reminds me: providing a worker on bedrest with an iPad or laptop really doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it?

Use a Task Management or Project Management Tool or Track Time

This dovetails with setting expectations, but if your team isn’t using any task management tools, the day you agree to let a team member work remotely is the day you should implement one. There are tons of different tools available with varying degrees of complexity. What works for your team will depend on the kind of work you do, the number of people involved, and how much you want to pay. That said, below are some of my favorites.

Tools to Consider

  • LeanKit
    LeanKit is an online Kanban board – a system that allows you to list out tasks, assign them to team members, and then let those team members move those tasks across “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done” columns. LeanKit sends email updates in real time, so if your team is good about maintaining the board, you’ll get updates as the work is being done, which gives you the ability to stay out of it if things are going well, or check in if you’re not seeing any movement across the board.
  • Basecamp or Asana
    Basecamp and Asana are much more complex, comprehensive project management tools. Clients as well as team members can be invited to join a project through them, allowing all stakeholders to see progress, ask questions, and track and contribute to project-related conversations. Asana boasts that they promote “teamwork without email,” so if that sounds doubly appealing, definitely check it out!
  • Freckle or Toggl
    Freckle and Toggl both do one thing really well: Time tracking. You’re not using them to plan out someone’s week in anticipation of them being gone from the office, but if you’ve got a team member who will be out for a while, who knows what she’s got to do, and you just want to keep tabs on what she’s up to, these tools are great. They’re often used to track billable hours, but you can use them as you see fit.

There are, of course, tons of other considerations for making reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, and tons more for managing remote teams, but these tools and tactics have my vote for managing the space where those needs intersect. Any other ideas on keeping remote team members on track? Leave ’em in the comments below!

 

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