Since the onset of COVID-19 around the world, people are finding that working from home is a required new norm. This has been eye-opening, to say the least, especially for those working at home with children. Working from home with children can probably feel like added pressure as kids demand around-the-clock attention—and parenting while juggling conference calls, virtual meetings, never-ending emails, and tight deadlines is not for the faint of heart.
Getting used to this new norm has produced its challenges as well as rewards. On average, many people spend eight to twelve hours a day away from home and may spend only two to three hours a day with their children. Now that people are required to stay at home, they can actually see and enjoy quality time with their children. The caveat, however, is the challenge of a work-at-home environment. It requires balanced expectations both personally and professionally. Here are some things that parents can do to make working at home manageable so that the needs of one’s profession can be met as well as the needs of the kids.
Create a Schedule
Well-thought-out day planning is essential, with set “office” hours. Consider how many hours you work each day. When will you return phone calls, take a conference call, or respond to emails? What can you absolutely accomplish while your kids are playing in the next room, taking a nap, eating lunch, or doing their homework? There are plenty of opportunities here to work smart by taking advantage of the windows of opportunity created.
Setting Up Your Workspace
Having a dedicated workspace allows you to create a separation between the kids and the work: preferably a room where you can close the door to truly make the workspace a workspace. Put a do not disturb sign or a “mommy” or “daddy working” sign on the door. If you do not have a room with a locking door, or one that is separate from everyone else, set up the space to accommodate, proper lighting, laptop, printer, etc. and communicate that this is your working space and that no one can be in it when you are working. “If you don’t learn to keep your roles as a parent and a professional separate, giving each your full attention for a set amount of time, you’ll never feel like you’re doing either well,” says Kimberly Smith, a recruitment supervisor at PECO. “Having a separate space allows you to mentally separate from the rest of the house.”
Communication, Partnering and Coordinating Efforts
Your spouse or partner, children, and colleagues at work must understand what you need in order to be productive. It’s a matter of communication, partnering, and coordinating efforts.
Kristin Peterson, an entrepreneur, parent, and wife of Bob Peterson, a consultant with Insigniam, shared her insights into what she and Bob needed to do during this time. She stated, “We had a conversation early on about priorities for our family. We agreed that Bob’s job provides more support and stability and thus took priority. I adapted accordingly for what I needed to do with the studio – it impacted how we set up classes, me only teaching over the weekend when Bob isn’t working and offloading a lot of work – either just putting things on the back burner or giving a lot of work to my team members who do not have kids at home. I also looked at the kind of work I’m able to do right now – mainly short tasks that do not require consistent focus. Things that need hours of focus or a lot of creativity have mostly been put aside.”
Insigniam’s Controller, Danielle Wilson, partners with her husband to coordinate their parenting time with their three-year-old and four-year-old daughters while they work. Danielle also has what she calls “independent time” where the girls play together in their room or her husband Will watches them while she works and vice versa.
Communicating at work is essential as well as it lays the foundation for functioning well while working remotely. If your colleagues are aware of what you face in your working environment during this time of uncertainty, they are more inclined to be understanding. Cheryl Wolterding, an executive administrative assistant at Bristol-Meyers Squibb says that “communication to colleagues is key. As a grandparent caring for an infant while my daughter who is a medical professional (on the front lines) goes to work, I let my colleagues know that I am listening, however, there is a baby in the room who may make noise and that I will mute my phone or microphone so as not to disrupt the meeting. “People have been very understanding during this time. They understand that I am doing my best and I am committed to ensuring that the work gets done.”
It Takes a Village
Your partner can be a great resource of support and so can the grandparents. Relying on family members to take over watching the kids can remove the added pressure that a parent may feel when trying to work and parent simultaneously, especially in a confined space. As long as they practice social distancing, they can take the kids for a walk or to a park, play games with them, etc. The idea here is to keep them occupied so that you can get the work done in the time that you have defined for you.
COVID-19 has truly been a disruption to our everyday lives and work but with a “work smarter” mindset you can be a productive professional and great parent!