How One Family Business Makes Parent-Teacher Meetings Easier

Teacher meetings can be hard for working parents. One company based in the Scottish Highlands has the solution.
Adam Rowe

If the phrase “work-life balance” has been drained of meaning in the corporate environment — and that's not an uncommon claim — it's because workplace managers tend to focus solely on the first half of that balance and neglect the latter.

It's an easy mistake. After all, it's only at work that they interact with their subordinates. But ensuring a well-rested life outside of the workplace is what helps everyone do their best once they've clocked in for the day. And for any workers who are the guardians of a school child, that means juggling more than a decade's worth of parent-teacher meetings alongside everything else in their life.

Communication softwares like Zoom or Google Meet have some features that can help teachers and parents, and last week, Microsoft Teams added one of their own. But one family company based in the Scottish Highlands has spent the last 15 years fine-tuning their own approach.

The Tool Schools Need: Virtual Appointment Software

Director Will Mackenzie launched the Parents Booking software company in 2007, alongside his father and brother.

Like any good startup, the whole thing kicked off when they identified a problem first-hand:

“My Mum is a history teacher in the Highlands of Scotland, and her school was having trouble encouraging parents to attend for the vital parent-teacher conversations. This, we discovered, was an issue UK-wide,” Mackenzie tells me.

Parents Booking's simple cloud-based solution addressed this issue by letting parents pick appointment times to meet with teachers. This gave parents the autonomy they needed, cutting through the three key barriers of work obligations, childcare needs, and transport availability. Schools could craft their initial invites, and then send reminders or other follow-up messages to easily encourage a higher percentage of parent responses than before.

Once the company was able to prove that their service helped UK schools boost parent sign-ups and attendance, they were able to break through. The lack of churn was another indicator of their success: Retention rates were nearly 100% year-on-year.

“I remember vividly us having just 12 schools as subscribers after the first year, and 72 the next, but then 300, and later, by partnering with popular British EdTech, we continued to grow,” Mackenzie says.

COVID-19 Ushers in Video Conferencing

Parents Booking had offered schools the ability to automatically convert their appointment schedules into video meetings for several years before anyone heard the term “COVID-19.” But back then, there hadn't been much interest.

However, social distancing precautions rewrote the rules for technology. Within months after the pandemic was declared, Mackenzie says 85% of all Parents Booking customers had begun using the video module.

The benefits of video included the ability to time meetings in order to keep to a schedule, as well as a streamlined experience that moved parents and teachers along to the next meeting, with the option for a built-in break between each one.

“Parents Booking now employs ten staff,” Mackenzie says. “We work with popular EdTech in other territories to add value to our sales propositions and are now looking for such partners in the USA and Canada to put down roots in most states and introduce the product to districts and schools.”

Overall, the service remains fairly small, though its subscriber numbers have doubled since COVID-19 began, growing from 1300 schools to almost 2500.

Virtual Meetings and the Workplace

Why should small businesses care about the best ways parents and schools can interact? Because it's all about work-life balance.

Virtual video meetings are key for accessibility. Parents can join from a laptop or smartphone from any location, even from their workplace while they're on a break. Barriers of childcare, transport, and mobility are removed, meaning that a greater range of people, from those with disabilities to those with a low income and three jobs, can fit a meeting in.

Why should small businesses care about the best ways parents and schools can interact? Because it's all about work-life balance.

Teachers can be more flexible too, setting virtual office hours for unscheduled chats or adding follow-ups if needed, not to mention the safety and ecological benefits of erasing all those unneeded car trips for in-person meetings.

94% of subscribed schools who have been running virtual parents’ evenings say they intend to keep offering them going forwards. Why? Mackenzie says that “attendances are at a record high, because of the accessibility benefits.”

How Business Communication Tools Bridge the Work-Life Balance Gap

Parents Booking is a tailor-made parent-teacher communication tool, but other general-purpose services with a wider audience can help both at work and at home as well.

The biggest services are Google Meet and Zoom, with Microsoft Teams close behind. They'll all include benefits like screen sharing, background blurring, and the abilities to join from any location and invite other parents, teachers, translators, or interpreters.

Each option comes with trade offs. One big benefit to Parents Booking is the fact that the parents won't have to download anything on their end, so a lack of IT skills won't be a setback. And the larger services don't have the same connective tissue built in, so each school that uses them must collate all virtual meeting links and send them to the relevant teachers and parents.

That automated process highlights the core value of communication software — to trim the time everyone takes to do the relatively mundane tasks that are essential to a thriving life within one's community. Seen this way, parent-teacher meetings are a microcosm of the many ways automated softwares can help genuinely balance your life — not just your work.

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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and he has an art history book on 1970s sci-fi coming out from Abrams Books in 2022. In the meantime, he's hunting own the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.

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