The world of work has changed rapidly over the last few weeks. Homeworking is one of the government’s key measures to avoid the further spread of Covid-19, protecting the NHS and, of course, saving lives.
How we live and work has changed in so many ways. For those of us with children, the announcement of nursery and school closures filled many working parents with dread. The main question for a lot of parents is “how am I going to work, home school and isolate?”
There is no doubt that the situation feels challenging for all types of family set-ups whether for two-parent homes, where both partners can work from home, for single parents and parents of children with additional learning needs.
There are additional financial concerns for many families, worries over the lack of technology for online home working and learning, how they will get to shop for the family as well as self-isolating with children. It’s fair to say it can all feel overwhelming.
The practicalities of combining work and supervising remote learning with childcare is a whole new experience for most of us. Whilst some of us may have experienced homeworking it’s unlikely to be with small colleagues in our workspace – all day, every day!!
No one knows how things will change over the coming weeks and months. There is no magic solution to get through the crisis. We believe it’s important to focus on the things that are within our sphere of control and influence.
To help you make your life easier, here are our tips on making family homeworking work for all the family.
Tip 1: Do what is best for your family
Your work commitments and family dynamics are unique to your family. Take the lead to do what works for your family to make this situation work in the best way you can for your specific circumstances.
Expectations from your employer(s) such as hours of work, flexibility, remote working protocols, etc and the number and age of children will impact on what you are able to do and how you set up your home working arrangements.
It’s good to be mindful of how other people’s circumstances may be different. Many people have talked about how under pressure they feel as they see parents who might not be working at the moment have done lots of arts and crafts, baking etc with their children emphasised by the portrayal of perfection on social media. There rarely is any perfection in this situation.
Tip 2: Create structure and routine
With working from home and home schooling it’s very easy for work and life to blend into one another.
Having a routine is vital. In setting out your schedule, don’t try to replicate your day at the office or at school; it’s important to recognise that the situation has changed. Instead, create a realistic daily plan for the entire family that includes work and school priorities.
Creating daily routines and an overall working structure helps to create psychological safety. This is an important factor at such an uncertain time. It enables you to take control and lead your family to action at this time. It also creates an opportunity for communicating and bringing each of you together. If possible, make your daily plan visible for all to see.
Get dressed – as tempting as wearing your PJs may be, getting dressed will help you be set up for each day, providing a mental shift from home to work mode.
Take a moment to think about what your day going to look like: What does success look for you for today? What tasks you are going to complete? What conversations are you going to have and how are you going to celebrate your wins?
Review your plan with your family regularly.
- Is work getting done?
- Are the children coping with the new arrangements?
- Are you finding time to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?
- What’s working well?
- What needs to change?
Tip 3: Looking after young children
Younger children will need close supervision, entertainment and hands-on care. Their attention span is likely to be short and so it’s useful to provide routine to your days whilst making their play-based activities varied, interesting and fun.
Be realistic about how much work can be achieved whilst caring for one or more young children. It is likely that you’ll need a work around plan for getting your work completed such as devising a shared childcare rota with your partner, working whilst the children are sleeping or relaxing, such as early mornings and evenings, using time blocking measures.
Screen time is often a concern for parents. During the lockdown measures, we believe it’s about being realistic and pragmatic and flex your boundaries according to your needs. Taking work calls, whilst children are entertained with an electronic device as perhaps there aren’t many other distractions available. All the usual activities that our children may have done before lockdown have now been cancelled (football, gymnastics, music etc) and it’s important for them to be kept reasonably busy and active in whatever way you can in the circumstances.
Rewards can work well for motivating children. Use rewards that they find motivating to encourage the children to engage in certain tasks, chores and activities, such as stickers, marbles, pocket money.
There is no doubt that parents with younger children are one of the most challenged groups in this pandemic. Please be easy on yourself to do the best you can with the resources you have available. Speak to your line manager about what you are able to focus on and what flexibility they are able to give you at this time.
Tip 4: Home working for older children
Like adults, children will have different ways of handling the many changes and effects coronavirus is bringing. They will have their own fears, challenges and anxieties. Even more so for children where end of year parties and exams have been cancelled overnight.
Discovering what your older child is motivated by and ensuring they get rewarded, recognised and praised for doing their home learning and other activities at this time. Also create the opportunities to chat to them about what they are going through and their fears and concerns.
We recommend setting up a separate workspace for them at home, where space allows, so they are ideally not working in their bedroom. Let their bedroom be a relaxing space for them to chill after their work is finished.
It may be appropriate to limit social media usage to ensure their schoolwork is getting completed, but don’t underestimate the importance of them connecting with their friends and fortunately there are so many ways they can do this electronically.
Recognise that learning doesn’t just happen with a teacher or in a dedicated learning environment. Learning is possible anywhere. Children are learning by engaging in activities, you don’t have to directly teach your children everything. You’re not expected to be their replacement teacher, but to facilitate the learning process if possible.
Tip 5: Separating work from home
Here are some ways to separate work time from your family and home life:
- Create dedicated work spaces for each member of the family
- Take regular breaks – schedule them into your day.
- When you’re done, you’re done – switch work devices off, pack away, shut the door or walk away to help switch off mentally
- Don’t be too hard on yourself – social media may give you the false impression that some people have this more in hand than you; this is not the case.
- Change your clothes – a really useful way to signal the end of your working day
- Take your daily exercise.
Tip 6: Managing it all
Recognise that this new way of working is going to require management. Maybe you have more than one child, possibly in different schools along with different personalities and maybe complex needs as well as working in demanding jobs. There’s a lot to manage along with lots of information coming at us all the time, particularly as the pandemic unfolds.
Focus on what you can control. Be realistic, facilitating as much learning as you can but focusing on helping yourselves to feel safe and secure.
Take time to get yourselves organised as a family to make this situation work as best as you can for each of you. It’s likely to involve trial and error, tweaking along the way to make it work for each of you.
Tip 7: Spending a lot of time together
Coronavirus self-isolating has forced many of us to spend more time with our family members than ever before. Overnight we have to work out how to parent, work and simply be together all day long. This can be challenging and testing for even the most stable relationships.
When it comes to dealing with rapid changes, everyone is inevitably going to deal with it in their own way. Be compassionate and understanding of each other’s coping mechanisms.
Tensions may rise at times being at home together with the mix of different personalities and temperaments. Do what you can to ensure everyone’s safety, reducing conflict and deflecting arguments.
Setting boundaries is hugely important for any relationship, create healthy boundaries such as respecting each other’s spaces in the home, agreeing a balance of family together time along with personal time and space.
Tip 8: Keep talking as a family
Whilst we find ourselves in unchartered waters, our responses will continue to be a mix of fear and other emotions as we all experience the impact on our freedom and our wellbeing.
Keep talking as a family about what is going on outside the home, the important work of the key workers, the importance of non-key workers staying at home, how vulnerable people are being supported, what you are doing as a family to help and how you are all feeling about it.
Support each other to be understanding of others and to look after your physical and mental wellbeing such as turning off the news if you are finding it too overwhelming, do fun activities, connect with family and friends remotely, change your routine and pace at the weekends, get outside when possible.
Tip 9: Keep connected
Keep in contact with your children’s teachers and your line manager. Remember, we’re all new to this arrangement, evolving as we go. If it’s not working for you, suggest ways to change it for the better. Most people are open to suggestions.
Keep connecting with friends, family and other working parents. We are missing out on so many of our normal social interactions. Recreate water cooler moments and coffee chats in a virtual way instead; schedule meetings with like-minded people.
Connecting virtually can become draining. Use journaling to write down and express your feelings. Extend this to write down a few things you are grateful for each day to help boost your mental wellbeing.
Tip 10: Ask for help
You are not alone – there are millions of families going through this at the moment as the pandemic spreads globally and lockdowns are enforced. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance at this time.
The combination of your family dynamics and working circumstances are unique so ensure you get the help you need to make this time work for you and your family.
This pandemic didn’t come with a ‘how-to’ manual,” but using some of these tips maybe the key to enabling you to take the lead and make this situation less stressful for both you and your children.
Nishi Mehta is the co-founder of CM Talent and social enterprise Career-Mums. She has a wealth of experience in people management and combines this experience with being a parent to inspire employers to improve their gender diversity. CM Talent help employers attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams with services including family care leave coaching, leadership development programmes and flexible working consultancy.