Going the extra mile for working parents

Digital transformation multinational Atos talks about its award-winning virtual summer camp and its package of support for women.

Child looking out the window


Many parents are struggling to get through these final weeks of school with infections spreading fast among children. Yet after the school challenge comes six weeks of summer holidays to fill, with Covid restrictions still having an impact.

One company, though, has come up with the creative solution of offering its parents a virtual summer camp. Atos started the initiative in the UK last year and it has really taken off, winning the digital transformation multinational the Project of the Year award from Global Women in Telco and Tech and forming part of its winning submission to HRZone’s Culture Pioneer awards.

During the first lockdown, it became clear from engagement with Atos’ employee networks that parents were concerned about childcare over the summer holidays given everything was closed and parents were unable to access grandparents or were worried about turning to them for help. Many parents were used to sending their children to summer camps over the holidays so the team came up with the idea of a virtual camp. The first camp comprised around 30 sessions and was held for two weeks in July/August 2020 for over 100 children mainly aged between five and 11. Sessions included online parties hosted by external providers, but the majority, including language learning, were led by Atos employees after a call-out for volunteers. Parents were sent the camp timetable and signed up for different sessions to prevent overbooking.

Atos has since held another two-day virtual camp during the February half term of the second lockdown earlier this year and opened the initiative up to colleagues in 12 countries so that they could suggest and lead sessions. The half term camp was more ambitious and included sessions on yoga and mindfulness, the user experience in online games, scavenger hunts and a virtual tour of an aquarium which was arranged in partnership with a charity. Seventy-eight children took part.

The company had planned to do another camp at Easter, but restrictions were easing by then and it was clear some parents were keen to get out and about after weeks in lockdown.

For the summer camp, Atos hopes to reach out to more of its international network and include them in, for example, language and story telling sessions.

Munpreet Cheema, lead for culture and employee experience, says the feedback from children has been fantastic and parents have welcomed the camps. “They don’t have to worry about finding something for the children to do and it has given them time to get their work done,” she states.

The volunteers have really enjoyed helping their colleagues. “It builds bonds across the organisation and it enables people to give something back and do something very different,” says Munpreet.

She has been evaluating the feedback on the camps and finding out which sessions the children liked best.

The camp is part of a package of support that Atos has developed for parents during the pandemic, including a list of recommended educational resources to help parents who were being bombarded with links to educational websites. The company also developed an interim policy to support people through Covid, including more flexible working, increased time off and a mental wellbeing strategy comprising webinars, virtual events and support, with backing from senior leadership. The team are now building an action plan to support employees’ mental health in the longer term.

Connected Women

They are also very aware of the particular impact Covid has had on women and are keeping an eye out for any longer term effects on women’s career progression. Victoria Driscoll, Head of People Transformation, is a working mum of a four and five year old and knows first hand the challenges many parents have faced. She is Chair of Atos’ Inspire Network on gender balance which has, for instance, been encouraging more conversations about the mental health of men in the workplace.

Victoria has also started a group coaching programme called Connected Women, which she describes as being “like a book club without the books”.  The group, launched in September 2020, meets online for an hour a month and members vote for the topic they would like to cover in each session. Topics tend to be very practical and have included imposter syndrome and building self confidence as well as different aspects of career progression. Around 30 women attend each session and there are five different streams spread across the UK and Northern Europe. “The feedback has been incredible,” says Victoria. “People have applied for jobs as a result and got promoted. We tend to take quite specific issues and focus on practical advice. The age range is very wide.”

Each topic is researched by Victoria and the session starts with a brief introduction and then people are invited to share their experiences. Sometimes Victoria speaks about research which she disagrees with just to provoke a discussion. Participants have their cameras off to encourage more sharing.

News of the initiative’s success is spreading fast and Victoria is in conversation with colleagues in the US about it and is meeting with Atos’ CEO to see if the concept can be used in customer-facing work. She is also working with the Inspire Network on a regular drop-in promotion cafe to help people to progress.

“It’s about more than information sharing. I love being able to help people in very practical ways,” says Victoria.

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