For many years now there has been a trend towards working from home. This has mainly been driven by advances in communication technology, the worsening in commuter-traffic, the growth in skills-based businesses, and a global drive for more flexibility in work and in life generally. Right now though, in 2020, there is a new and powerful driver here: Coronavirus. In almost all countries all non-essential workplaces have closed and so for many of us, if we do not work from home, we do not work.
For many people working-from-home is a new experience altogether. For others it might not be new, but the extent of it (all the time, every day) surely is. We have written articles with general advice but here we would like to focus on a particular challenge faced by many: children. Children are, of course, a great joy (at least mostly) but when it comes to working from home, there can be real challenges. Many a working-from-home parent feels constantly torn by the demands of work and of family, ending many days feeling frustrated, unproductive, torn, and tired. In all honestly we cannot offer perfect solutions but we can give you some ideas that should help you find some balance…
- Structure. What you want to avoid is a chaotic day where you never really focus on any one thing at a time. Try to plan for dedicated work time and for dedicated family time. With older children this will come down to negotiation and clear communication, while with younger preschoolers and toddlers you’ll probably need more creative solutions like agreeing “shifts” with your partner (if she or he is present), leveraging baby’s nap-time, and perhaps even resorting to some “TV-babysitting” maybe.
- Plan. This is really the same point as “structure” but we just want to emphasise the importance of not “winging it” hour by hour and “muddling through as best you can”. This will not work. Sure, you may need to adapt a bit as each day unfolds (after all, few plans work out perfectly) but you really need to think about the challenges you have, and how best you can overcome them. Think, plan, learn what works, revise your plans, repeat…
- Get real. This is hard. You’re learning new skills, adapting to new distance-work technologies, caring for your family…..and all of this, during a world-changing pandemic. Nobody can expect it to be easy and it is not going to be. You have to be realistic. So does your family. So does your employer. This is a time when we all have to compromise, focus on what’s really most-important, understand that we cannot do everything, etc. You’ll need to discuss compromises with your family (e.g. maybe we cannot have trips to the park and play-dates and maybe “Mum’s work-time” is a new term to be understood at home) and your employer (maybe some deadlines are just not realistic and maybe some tasks have to be delayed), but it starts by accepting some yourself (you never were Super-man or Wonder-woman, and you still aren’t).
- Look after you. Our resilience and ability to cope is determined by many things but good general health is one critical pillar. So this is NOT a time to avoid exercise, eat junk, and just “vegetate” with Netflix. That kind of lock-down lifestyle will only make things worse (it may also increase the chances of a poor outcome if we do get infected). We should all have a clear plan around taking care of ourselves. We can do essential shopping so we can eat well. We are allowed some exercise time and we should use it. Healthy living is an investment in coping with lock-down and with coronavirus.
- Screen the screens. For all but the youngest children, this time of lock-down will inevitably involve more “screen time”. This is normally something we would advise against (we think that most children already have enough or too-much screen-time) but the reality of this time makes it unavoidable and so we all have to “get real” to some degree. But we do suggest you screen what your children are seeing/using/downloading/etc. There is still, very much, room for ensuring only age-appropriate content is accessed. There is still real merit in finding and using quality educational online resources rather than mindless violence or endless teen-dating-soapies.
- Work at “work”. You cannot go to the office any more. But you can, and you should, create a dedicated working-space at home. This will really help you establish boundaries for your family (children and partner) and it will help you focus on work when you are at “work”. Many will not be able to have an actual office at home but even one-end of the dining-room table, or a section of the kitchen counter, or the patio-table, or a small table/desk in a bedroom, can work as a dedicated work space.
- Manage meetings. Tele-meetings, whether voice or video or both, can be among the most stressful parts of working from home with family. We strongly suggest trying to plan and schedule in such a way that you avoid distractions and can focus on your meetings properly. Schedule around nap-time, enrol your partner for a “shift”, bribe the kids with some TV-time if you have to, etc. You’ll need to be creative. And if it all falls apart and your little angel needs you during a work-call, perhaps you’ll just have to tell the truth: explain what’s happening to your colleagues, ask for their understanding, reschedule if need-be. You’ve done your best and it has not worked out today. You’ll be surprised how understanding people are: we’re all in the same boat after all.
So there are some ideas around working from home with family. We think it comes down to careful planning, reasonable boundaries, compromise, and balance. It’s about being sensible, practical, and realistic. Perhaps the most important thing is to be kind to yourself and everyone around you (family, and work). Please add your own ideas and comments below and let’s see if we can learn from each other, even as we’re physically far from each other.