The pandemic has disrupted child care and schooling, with some facilities closed, some open, and many just gone. For parents, it’s an ever-changing conundrum: What do I do with the kids today?

While it is true that working parents have always been concerned about their children’s care, the coronavirus pandemic has put that need into the spotlight like never before. Juggling work and caregiving is a source of stress that, at best, distracts from parents’ productivity and, at its worst, may cause employees to quit. Finding a sustainable work-life balance during the Covid-19 crisis is essential to employees’ personal and professional well-being.

But, of the 61% of child-care centers that closed during coronavirus, as of October 12, 2020, only 71% of these centers have reopened, with attendance levels reaching only about half what they were before the pandemic, according to Tracking the Impact of COVID-19 on the Child Care Industry by Procare Solutions, a child-care management software company.

Only about 40% of schools have announced plans to reopen in-person (with another 10 percent planning for a hybrid model that includes some in-person instruction), according to School Districts across the Nation Plan for an Uncertain Year Ahead.

Some companies whose employees can work remotely are examining how they can support child care to keep their talent. They are finding that child care gives a good return on investment.

Neocova is a fintech company that provides artificial intelligence, analytics, and other cloud-based systems to community banks, enabling the banks to offer their customers a modern digital experience. “It was incredibly important that our investors share our passion and commitment to Main Street,” said Lindsay Lockhart, the company’s chief of staff and co-founder. The company raised $9.5 million in a Series A round from the community banks it serves, including Bank of St. Elizabeth, Coastal Community Bank, First Financial Bank, Kearny Bank, Provident Bancorp, Inc., and Sunwest Bank. The banks share Neocova’s values of supporting the company’s employees and their children during the pandemic.

Community banks play a critical role in driving local economic growth. They hold 40% of total small loans to businesses, according to the 2019 Summary of Deposits Highlights by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. When commercial banks cut back lending to small businesses during the last recession, community banks stepped up. During this recession, when big banks ignored small businesses’ needs for PPP loans, community banks came through. Banks with less than $10 billion in assets issued about 60% of loans in the first round of the PPP, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Local reinvestment helps small businesses grow and helps families finance major purchases and build financial security.

No surprise that Neocova, which is focused on helping community providers do a better job serving its customers, would treat its employees well.

As a single mother of two daughters, 9 and 5, Lindsay Lockhart, chief of staff, understands the challenges Neocova’s team faces first hand. “At no point does anyone on the [50 people] team feel as if they are going to be left behind because of parental duties,” she said. She knows that the pandemic is an incredibly challenging time for parents.

Offering company-supported child care options helps parents work consistently. Companies realize that parents supported with child-care benefits can focus on their jobs better and be more productive. They are more likely to stay with the company longer and miss fewer workdays.

“Neocova introduced an EAP plan at the beginning of the Covid crisis to assist our employees with the increased demands of the new work environment,” said Lockhart. EAP is an employee benefit program that assists employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental, and emotional well-being. The Neocova team is located all over the country. States and cities had different options for child care and schooling. Offering help with child care was complicated.

Options needed to be flexible. To keep morale up in this new work environment, Neocova periodically sends surprise gifts, such as healthy snack boxes for adults or creative kid activity packages, tailored to individual family needs. “We’ve added Covid bonuses to our wellness benefits cards,” said Lockhart. The employees can use the funds as they wish.

In her role as chief of staff, Lockhart listens to teammates’ needs and voices those needs to management. Employees have the flexibility to blackout a period during the traditional workday to spend time with their children, which could include helping with online schooling or taking a break to go for a walk.

“My motto is to show up and do my best with the understanding that best will look different depending on the day,” she said. Lockhart adjusted her schedule, waking up earlier to have some quiet time, a cup of coffee, catch up on email, and schedule her day. After that, she gets the kids dressed and fed and set up for the day ahead. She also takes a break to have lunch with her girls. Neocova offered summer hours so the team could have larger blocks of time to be outside, engage in other non-work activities and, if they had children, be with them.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s recent research, among companies that have already had their employees return to the office, 42% do not have dedicated plans to help employees balance child-care responsibilities. And only 32% of organizations that are planning to return to work have outlined child-care plans.

How will you support your employees’ child care needs?