Working from Home and the Changing Nature of Care Benefits
While the coronavirus vaccines may effectively end the pandemic in 2021, some of the societal transformations it has caused are likely here to stay. A growing number of employers are now planning to allow employees to work from home permanently, and in major cities, people are predicted to live where they once worked and to work where they currently live. As the work-from-home trend accelerates, the meaning of childcare as an employee benefit will also necessarily change.
Imagine a company that offers excellent childcare benefits, both as a matter of principle and in order to attract and retain excellent employees. If a significant part of their workforce post-pandemic opts to continue working remotely, the convenience of an on-site daycare– already a pricey proposition for employers – may no longer be so attractive to workers. As any parent who has dealt with a hungry or bored child during a Zoom call can testify, these people still want childcare help. It just needs to take a different form.
At Helpr, one of our core in-app features lets working parents schedule care hours subsidized by their employer. Instead of relying on any sitter who happens to be available, parents can choose from a vetted pool of childcare workers. If they already have a trusted network of friends or family who provide care as a favor, parents can add them to the system for compensation. Caring for children, parents, and loved ones, even when done as a favor, is work. And when this childcare allows a parent to focus on their own job, the caregiver is in effect contributing to the bottom line of the company for free. Our model lets companies recognize and compensate these vital but informal care arrangements.
Childcare facilities have struggled during the pandemic, and more than 25% of facilities nationally are still closed. A recent congressional report found that before the pandemic, nearly 12 million children under the age of five were enrolled in some sort of childcare in America. That's more than 3 million kids who need care that our current system is not able to provide.
One challenge for childcare facilities during the pandemic has been lower enrollment numbers, even as providers have shouldered the additional costs of extra cleaning supplies and protective equipment. Teachers can also get sick, and often have their own families to care for. Some experts have predicted that massive childcare center closures after the pandemic will have ripple effects, preventing parents from returning to work and hampering economic recovery. President-elect Joe Biden is also concerned about the issue. He has pledged to use tax subsidies and credits so that low-income workers do not need to spend more than 7% of their income on childcare.
America is unusual among developed nations in not treating childcare as a public good worth prioritizing and funding. But there are signs that both the public and private sector are working to change this. In addition to Biden's plan, private employers also have a role to play. Starbucks launched a backup childcare initiative for employees in October 2018. Helpr is currently partnering with companies like VF Corp, Snap Inc and Grammarly to provide their employees with a guaranteed number of subsidized backup childcare hours per year. Post-pandemic, it's likely that this model will expand to include not only backup care but also primary at-home childcare for those workers who plan to work from home permanently. The need for quality childcare has not changed, but how and where it is delivered may look very different in the years to come.
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