With social distancing implemented across the world to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, many professionals are now finding themselves having to manage workload while also looking after their kids - forcing families to work and play together.
Even if you are familiar with working from home, you might not have anticipated your family being present, causing slower internet connections and distractions from your daily tasks.
With timings on how long this new remote setup will last, many remote working parents will have to consider steps towards a structured working from home plan that keeps you and your family happy and content.
Below we offer some tips that may help steer you in the right direction to obtain a smooth-running operation, including a first hand perspective from Matthew Joyce, and Matt King, two Robert Walters parents currently trying to find balance between family and work during this trying time.
The big advantage of working from home is that you don’t waste time commuting. Let your kids sleep in. This will allow you to benefit from some extra quiet time in the morning - use this time to make a quick start. It will enable you to finish a little earlier in the evening, leaving more time for some fun with the kids.
"Both my girls (11 and 14) sleep in. Logging in early while they are still asleep allows me to focus on overnight email correspondence and get a great start on tasks for the day," says Matthew Joyce, Technology Business Partner at Robert Walters.
Just like in the office, it is important to have your own spot where you can work at ease and without distractions. If you live in a rather spacious house, turn one of the rooms into a temporary office. If this isn't an option for you however, you can create your own spot in the living or dining room or even in a bedroom as a temporary workplace where you can work without being disturbed too much with young children. it is important to have your own spot where you can work at ease. Set boundaries with your children and let them know 'working from home' means 'working'. Explain that they cannot disturb you during the working day and reward the good behavior, even if you have to throw in the odd bribe here and there.
In order to be able to work without being constantly interrupted, you can plan some playful and more quiet activities for smaller children. There are plenty of things they can do with little support from their parents, such as DIY projects, painting, coloring and drawing. Just like at school, you can divide your living room into different play corners for the little ones: a DYI corner, a reading area, a corner to play with the dolls - it is important not to offer everything at the same time or on the same day, but to offer some variety, so they don’t get bored.
"My five year old daughter really enjoys art/arts and crafts so we’ve stocked up on colored paper, glue/tape, popsicle sticks, crayons, markers, colored pencils, and water-soluble paints. She has an art table where she’s free to create anything she wants," says Matt King, Senior Consultant at Robert Walters.
It is also important for yourself to build some structure into your working day. Arrange your tasks in order of importance and make sure you can carry out the most difficult tasks at times when it is calm for you, like early in the morning. By maintaining some form of structure within the family every day, children will adapt more quickly to this new situation and your work space.
Keeping children occupied while focusing on work is not easy, especially if you need to do it on a daily basis during a longer period. Creating some form of routine might help. Like in school, it might be a good idea to plan some workshops throughout the day, with a different activity each time. Make the planning visible so kids can tick things off once done.
Plan a timeslot for homework and explain to children which exercises they need to complete by when and plan a creative hour afterwards to do some drawing for example. If the weather is nice, let them play outside or give them some free time.
"I am the first one up and online around 7:30am. I try to burn through my overnight emails and address any urgent issues that have come up first. At lunch I try to go for a walk with the family. The rest of the day is Project Work/Admin/ Escalations interspersed with meetings and handling requests from other staff. Generally I am done around 5-5:30, and then might make dinner (if it’s my turn) and have a chat to everyone else about their day. In the evenings we’ll either watch a movie or play a board game or something," shares Joyce.
A few weeks away from school obviously has an impact on kids. By giving your children a little homework every day, you can help them avoid falling behind too much. Determine every day which exercises they need to do and by what time they need to finish them. As soon as you have finished your workday, take some time to review their homework together. It will show your children how to organize their own tasks during the day.
Older kids can also be involved in little chores in and around the house. Let them wash the car, weed, fill and empty the dishwasher, tidy up their room... it will keep them busy and you can remove these tasks from your own to-do list, leaving you more family time.
If you are in virtual contact with colleagues or external stakeholders on a daily basis, make sure to schedule those meetings at a quiet time during the day, in order not to be interrupted too much. This can be in the early morning when kids are still asleep for example, or at a time when they can watch TV or play on the tablet.
"I’ve recently shifted my work day to start later as my daughter will zone out on Netflix later in the afternoon while my wife prepares dinner. So 3pm-7pm is the sweet spot (mostly)," shares King. "Disney+ and Netflix should not be ruled out as options, either," King adds.
When both you and your partner work from home, it can be useful to alternate some time with your kids. While one parent focuses on work, the other parent can play a game with them. In doing so, children will feel less 'neglected' and both parents can continue to work at alternating moments.
"Typically my daughter, Emma, spends mornings with my wife doing online school activities. I’ll work at the kitchen table. We do lunch together and Emma spends the afternoon doing art/Netflix/Legos. We take family pre-dinner walks and our normal family routine goes from there (dinner, bathtime, storytime, bed)," says Matt King.
We must all avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible. Save yourself a lot of time by, for example, doing your shopping once or twice a week and preparing a number of meals in advance during the weekend. This will free up some time during the evenings to spend with the kids.
"My wife and I decide what we want for dinner that night and make sure we have everything. At lunch I’ll cut up fruit and make sandwiches for the kids. Then at night either my wife or I will cook sometimes with the other person assisting," says Joyce.
Do your children still take a nap in the afternoon? Use this time to your advantage by focusing on those tasks that require the most concentration. By doing so, you don't have to feel guilty when you are less concentrated during the play moments and you will feel less stressed.
Finally, it is important to ensure your work-life balance is maintained. Once your workday is done, shut down your PC and enjoy the evening. Plan something fun, like a family game night for example.
"My advice is to focus on the 1-2 things you want to accomplish. The rest goes by the wayside," shares King on a final note.
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