The good news about being married to a teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic is having a partner who’s well equipped to help your kids with their homework. The challenge: teachers also need to be available to their students between nine and five most days, which can be tricky when both parents work.
Just ask Josh Brannin, Transportation Manager at SCJ Alliance’s Centralia office. “My wife is an elementary school teacher and she has to juggle a lot of conference calls,” says Brannin. “I’m trying to squeeze in 40 hours of work throughout the week whenever I get a chance. Doing that and keeping our kids engaged and learning is a challenge, but I think we’ve managed it pretty well.”
Throughout the first phase of COVID-19, everyone at SCJ Alliance worked from home. Adapting to their new working conditions was easier for some than others, including those coping with homeschooling children ranging in age from toddlers to high schoolers. The company worked with their team to keep everyone connected and provide both technological and emotional support.
Like Brannin, Principal and Civil Engineering Manager Brandon Johnson is married to an elementary school teacher. Since March he’s been getting up around 5:00 a.m. to get some work done before transitioning to his second role of the day: science and math instructor for his three children. “My wife handles the language arts and writing,” he says. “I guess because I’m an engineer, by default I take on the math.”
Since they realized that everyone would need to work from home, SCJ’s IT team has been supporting the staff in multiple ways. “They’ve been amazing,” says Johnson. “They set us up with every online communication and file-sharing tool I could imagine.”
Brannin already had a functional office at home, but others have needed more assistance. “They’ve helped people get set up with spare monitors or by being around to troubleshoot connection and videoconferencing issues,” he says. “If a server goes down, we learn that they’re out there running around to fix it.”
Aside from technological support, the company has provided different ways for the team to maintain a sense of unity. “Right away they realized how hard it was going to be for people to work from home when they were used to being in a social kind of environment,” says Johnson. “There’s been a whole bunch of Zoom happy hours and lunchtime calls with different virtual gatherings. SCJ has tried to keep everybody connected while we were very disconnected physically.”
With so much disruption occurring in everyone’s lives, the company has been flexible and understanding about their staff’s capacity. When it’s not realistic to expect a parent to be available to co-workers during normal working hours, the leadership team lets them know. As an example, one of Brannin’s colleagues is married to an essential worker, which means he’s often at home all day – with five children.
“It’s a struggle for him to be very productive on those days when she’s at work,” says Brannin. “The leaders have been really good about communicating with the managers that they shouldn’t expect people to be available all the time.”
Long before COVID-19, SCJ Alliance has placed a great emphasis on workplace culture. The approach paid off in creating a loyal and committed team while achieving outside recognition. Five times, most recently in 2019, SCJ was recognized with the Best Firm to Work For award from the Zweig Group, the nation’s leader in enhancing business performance for architecture, engineering, planning, construction and environmental consulting firms.
Having such a firmly established culture in place helped to ease the transition to working from home, Johnson believes. “I think we’ve always had a focus on work/life balance. If you had kids that went to daycare and needed to be picked up at a certain time, the schedule was flexible.”
Another key aspect of the culture has been connecting outside of work, whether that meant regular Friday happy hours, bringing families along on clam digs, or company camping trips. “We’re always doing things that build a camaraderie you don’t always get at office jobs,” says Johnson. “It’s helped us stay connected. We can pick up the phone and call each other. It’s a different relationship than if we were just co-workers.”