Remote working may sound ideal on paper; no commute, a proper meal at lunch, and no arguments over the office playlist. This all goes out of the window when children are involved.
Kids are unlikely to respect the rules of the working day if they’re hungry or tired, and definitely won’t know the etiquette of a conference call. With more parents working from home now due to social distancing rules, there is change and uncertainty for everyone. It is unrealistic to expect kids to know ‘home time’ is now ‘work time’. When you throw in homeschooling, and the stress of a pandemic, and you may have a recipe for disaster.
This is an issue for more people than you may think, especially with a large majority of office workers working from home in 2020. There are 6.2 million couple households with dependent children in the UK and 1.7 million lone parent families; so you’re not alone.
We have compiled a list of practical tips for juggling work, home school and play without wanting to pull your hair out.
- Communication is key
This applies across the board. Only you will know what’s best for you and your family. So do not be afraid to voice your concerns and circumstances with your colleagues.
Equally, you will need to speak with your partner regularly if you are both working remotely and live together. If you have a big deadline approaching, or an important meeting around the corner, you will need to share this information with them. They will not know what stresses you are dealing with at work if you do not tell them. If their work permits, they may be able to take the kids to the park when a big meeting is on, or pick up some of the household chores, so you can focus on work for a couple of days. It’s so important to try and share the load as much as possible when working from home, as it’s easier to bring work stresses to your personal life when the lines are blurred.
If you have older kids, try and explain the situation to them too, and try and give them the heads up if you have a stressful day of work ahead.
- Dedicated workspace
This may sound obvious, but it’s important to establish your home office space, so it’s clear to your kids when you’re in work mode and when you are around to play, chat and eat. Naturally, not everyone has the space for a proper home office, but a more formal desk set-up in a separate room from the TV or living room can help set those all-important boundaries.
Even if it is just setting up camp on the dining room table with the door shut, your kids will be able to differentiate when mum or dad is working. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to please everyone and working on the sofa with a kid on one knee everyday - your back won’t thank you for it!
With your kids as your new office buddies, chances are you won’t have as much uninterrupted time to work as you would in the office. Your working day probably won’t fit neatly into a 9-5 anymore either. There will be less time to check in with colleagues and reply to every Slack message. So what you’ll need to do is strictly prioritise your workload and daily task list, delegating or relying on other members of the team where possible. You have to be as realistic as possible as to how much can get done in one day, because taking on too much will not be good for your stress levels and work-life balance, which is of course, is a bit trickier while working from home and parenting.
In essence, try and use your time as wisely as possible, getting through the more client facing and team dependent tasks during the working day. Unfortunately, it may only be possible to get through bigger tasks when the children are in bed or napping.
- Establish a routine
If you have young children, it’s likely that they have some sort of routine already; whether it be waking up at a certain time, getting hungry at certain times of the day, and you try to get them to bed at a similar time each evening too. With older kids who are usually at school, it may be a bit trickier to get into the swing of this new way of life. But you may be surprised how capable kids are of change.
That being said, try and talk them through the situation, and how things will be for the next few months. Explain to them that mum or dad has moved their office home, and can only be interrupted in case of an emergency.
Introduce family breakfasts with everybody at the table before work begins, so the kids get to see you before a day of work. Even though they may not be at school due to Covid right now, they may have some homework to do, or some reading to catch up on. A solid morning routine will be beneficial for their studies too.
This may also be a good opportunity to outline what the day holds, and for you to warn them that you have a big important meeting that afternoon. For some families, it may even be beneficial to have a written timetable of the working week, so it’s clear when mum or dad has to be in the home office, and when you can have some laid-back family time.
- Distinguish weekdays from weekends
Although you will be giving structure to the days with your routine, you can build a little excitement around the working week so your children are less likely to require your attention 24/7. For instance, set aside new films or exciting toys for when you have to get some important work done, they are less likely to interrupt you if they have something new to focus on, and something to look forward to. This may not be effective forever, but having something which makes them excited for the Mondays when mum or dad has to work will differentiate weekend play from weekday play.
If you have younger kids or toddlers, try setting up a designated activity space for them in your home office. This will give them their own room to learn and play, where they don’t usually spend time while you reply to some urgent emails.
- Manage your own expectations
You’ll be surprised at how understanding your colleagues will be when it comes to the challenges of parenting and working from home. But we all have unfair expectations of ourselves sometimes and our own performance at work. When working from home due to Covid-19, try and remind yourself daily that you did not choose this set-up, and nor did your workplace. Everyone is just trying to make the best of an unavoidable situation, so cut yourself some slack. Your kids will inevitably interrupt you here and there, but remember, they are only kids. They are bound to hurt themselves, or need you throughout the day.
Take a deep breath and remember, this is only temporary. The kids will be back at school eventually and you’ll get a taster of your normal life before you know it.