Childcare solutions in a hybrid world

Denise Priest from Bright Horizons talks about the implications of hybrid working for childcare.

Children playing in a childcare setting childcare matters icon on image


Denise Priest, Director of Employer and Strategic Partnerships at Bright Horizons,  talks to about how the company is supporting employers and employees with adapting to the post-Covid world.

Q: What are you hearing from employers about returning to the workplace?

Denise Priest: We are working with a number of employers now who are planning for the transition back to the workplace. Since social distancing will remain a major factor, there will be a limit on the number of people at any given time able to occupy office space. This may mean team members rotating the days that they come into the workplace, or offices may become “hubs” where people come to collaborate and attend meetings for part of the week, and work from home on other days.

We know that employers have already started to survey and consult with their people to better understand employee working preferences and align these with business needs. We can be confident that in many if not most organisations, hybrid working will become the “new normal”. The experiences of lockdown demonstrated clearly that supporting working families’ dependant care needs – especially childcare – is key to business productivity and employee wellbeing. Which is where we can really make a positive impact.

Q: How can Bright Horizons support these changes?

Denise Priest: We are ideally placed to provide the support which both businesses and individuals need through offering a ‘Hybrid Childcare Programme’.

The diversity and sophistication of our existing established services means that we can offer meaningful support in so many ways. In essence, the programme offers clients the ability to benefit from a blend of our services which is most suitable to their business needs and the demographic of their workforce. For example, some employers may want to support their employees with flexible solutions which they can utilise at a combination of our nurseries which are both close to home and close to work.

Others may consider looking to focus support by using one of our nurseries as a near-workplace nursery and blend this with a Back-Up Care programme – which provides a range of care provision (in nurseries, or at home with nannies) that can be accessed should there be an unexpected change in schedule or a hiatus in existing care arrangements. So, potentially on the days when an employee is not in the office, they can use a nursery closer to home, or a nanny, or a childminder.

The support is not limited to early years: employers are also aware that for parents or carers of school-age children the holidays can be particularly challenging, and we provide access to a range of holiday clubs and playschemes (these can also be virtual, if appropriate).

Q: How do families manage the complexity of these childcare offerings? And how can employers help?

Denise Priest: When we talk with employers about the feasibility of offering dependant care supports, we outline
three specific childcare challenges – the childcare trilemma that parents and carers face when looking for high quality childcare:

– If the care is available, it is often not high quality
– If the care is high quality, it is often not affordable
– If the care is high quality and affordable, it is often not available

As an established childcare provider, we know the importance of a child feeling settled at home and at nursery and help solve this trilemma.

We partner with our clients all the way, providing them with information and resources to share with their employees via their intranet or through parent and carer networks, for example. In collaboration with the employer, we keep in touch with their people through newsletters, resource packs and webinars, helping them to understand the choices available – as well as providing advice on a wide range of family matters.

As an established childcare provider, we know the importance of a child feeling settled and at home at nursery. From a pedagogy perspective, our approach centres on the child and their wellbeing and we have a consistent approach to early childhood education and care across all of our 300 plus nurseries in the form of our policies, procedures, curriculum and the menus that we offer.

The consistency of our child-centred philosophy and guiding principles ensures that we are able to support each child’s individual learning and development needs. Information related to the learning needs for each child can be shared easily between our settings. Parents and carers can keep in touch with staff and engaged in their child’s learning via our Bright Horizons App which acts as window into our world and their child’s nursery experience.

Q: How does this benefit working families?

Denise Priest: Employers recognise that the experiences of the past 12 months have affected people’s wellbeing and mental health. We all know that family is the most important factor in every individual’s life, so ensuring that childcare is reliable and easy to manage helps to relieve stress considerably.

Q: Why does being a family-friendly employer matter?

Denise Priest: We have always been committed to helping employers embrace family-friendly work practices, and to that end we engage in regular ongoing research to ascertain impact. We recently carried out our Work+Family Snapshot 2021, surveying over 1,300 employees working for 170 of our clients. The research showed a clear link between employers providing family-friendly services and employees’ self-ratings for productivity, engagement, loyalty and wellbeing.

The research found that nearly half (48%) of those surveyed see family life as a higher priority now  than before the pandemic, a sentiment shared by both men and women. And despite murmurings in the media around the gendered impact of the pandemic, our survey responses showed that women’s career aspirations and ambitions remain as high as those of men.

In this survey of client employees, well over three quarters agreed that their organisation cares about their work and home balance, with even more agreeing that their own line manager cares about this. We conducted a similar survey in December with a random sample of 1,000 working parents in the UK (i.e. not employees of Bright Horizons clients).

What we found is that there is a 20 percentage point increase for our clients’ employees compared to the random sample when it comes to seeing their employer as invested in their balance of work and home life. We are proud to
be helping our clients achieve this impact in employee engagement and wellbeing.

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