Florida schools are reopening so we can go back to work. Businesses have other ideas.

After many sleepless nights, Christie Trimmer came up with a solution.



a bedroom with a stuffed animal: A student desk and reading nook is part of a classroom set up at Communities First Association Management, Apollo Beach, Friday, August 21, 2020. The company will have an office for employees' children to do e-learning and be supervised by a University of South Florida student.


© SCOTT KEELER/Times/Tampa Bay Times/TNS
A student desk and reading nook is part of a classroom set up at Communities First Association Management, Apollo Beach, Friday, August 21, 2020. The company will have an office for employees’ children to do e-learning and be supervised by a University of South Florida student.

The co-owner of Communities First Association Management worried how the parents in her company would fare as kids headed back to school. Her 10-year-old daughter is doing online classes and she wanted to be prepared in case some of her employees’ kids get sent back home to do e-learning.

So, Trimmer decided to dedicate office space for employees’ young kids with a tutor who is a University of South Florida student. Two kids are signed up to use the room so far, and the company is limiting capacity to six to minimize COVID-19 exposure.

“I need to have the infrastructure in place right now to sustain all of these child being sent home in the next two weeks,” Trimmer said.

In pushing for schools to reopen, Gov. Ron DeSantis has argued that the decision is vital to helping Florida’s economy recover. But across industries, many employers say reopening classrooms — and relieving workers of their daytime parenting duties — is having little influence on whether they are summoning people back to the office.



a person looking at a computer desk: Olivia Trimmer, 10, a fifth grader from Apollo Beach, works on a computer in a classroom at Communities First Association Management, Apollo Beach, Friday, August 21, 2020. The company will have an office for employees' children to do e-learning and be supervised by a USF student.


© SCOTT KEELER/Times/Tampa Bay Times/TNS
Olivia Trimmer, 10, a fifth grader from Apollo Beach, works on a computer in a classroom at Communities First Association Management, Apollo Beach, Friday, August 21, 2020. The company will have an office for employees’ children to do e-learning and be supervised by a USF student.

Those who must work in-person do, but leaders at other companies say they will continue to keep their employees at home and adjust when things look safe.

“The pandemic is still driving that decision,” said Danny Rice, with commercial real estate management company Colliers International.

Trimmer said only three of her eight employees have returned to her Apollo Beach office, where the company helps manage homeowners associations. She’s trying to prepare for any contingency.

As school districts debated whether or not to bring kids back this fall, Clearwater-based cybersecurity education firm KnowBe4 gave parents the option to work remotely through the end of the school year, if they wanted their kids to do online schooling. The company also offered to talk with parents if they wanted help making a decision and allows its employees to work flexible schedules around their family needs.

“If you can accommodate (employees) in any way, they’re much more likely to want to stay part of your organization,” said Erika Lance, the company’s senior vice president of people operations.

On Sept. 15, KnowBe4 will evaluate its reopening plans. But Lance said the company may not fully bring all employees to the office until sometime in mid-2021 and the school districts have not influenced its decisions.

Tech Data, the Largo-based technology distribution company, won’t be reopening with the schools either.

“We think it’s too fluid to even set a specific date where people will return,” chief human resources officer Beth Simonetti said.

The company has said that at the very earliest, it would return Jan. 4. While Tech Data hasn’t been focusing on parents specifically, it’s been surveying employees and working to accommodate them on an individual basis.

“We’re continuing to ask them what they need,” Simonetti said.

That approach may be common among office-based companies now, said Rice, a managing director at Colliers International. In general, employers have to figure out how to meet the needs of workers, from parents to those with vulnerable older relatives or those who are vulnerable to coronavirus themselves.

“It’s more of a broader scope focus,” he said.

And some businesses require in-person interaction with customers or clients.

Susie Brush, director of agent care for Century 21 Beggins, said she plans to take advantage of the company’s flexibility when caring for her two children, ages five and nine. As they head back to school, Brush plans to spend mornings in the office and work from home when kids get out of school in the afternoons.

“They’re very flexible and happy to work with the people in the company who are parents,” Brush said.

Esther Eugene, CEO of All Administrative Solutions, a St. Petersburg-based business support company, said there are several best practices for companies to support working parents.

In addition to offering flexible schedules, she said it’s important for companies to make it clear to parents they won’t be penalized for their needs. Eugene also said it’s important for human resource teams to explain workers’ rights with regards to leave in clear, layman’s terms. Whether writing out the company policy or offering information sessions, companies should also ensure employees know there are no dumb questions about company policy, she said.

“The more information, the better,” Eugene said.

For some smaller, blue-collar businesses, not much has shifted. They’ve long had to accommodate working parents, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that.

Ed DePaul, head of El-Cheapo Tree Service, said one of his recent employees was a single dad who had a son with autism. As long as the employee communicated his availability in advance, DePaul said, he was able to be flexible with his schedule, and would pay him for the full day, even if he occasionally needed to show up late.

“We’re basically a family-oriented company,” DePaul said.

He said that arrangement began before COVID-19 shutdowns came to Florida.

Advanced Nationwide Security Corp., a security guard company, works with parents — often moms — who need to work part-time or take time off to care for their kids.

“The supervisor usually works with them to the best of their ability,” said the company’s president Anthony Ilesanmi.

Until there’s a vaccine, many companies may not head back to the office, said Rice. In the meantime, he said, he’s focusing on the word “flexibility.”

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