‘Prepare yourself’ – one member’s advice on working from home with kids
By Harvir Sangha, Tide member, mother and founder of Doyenne, a flexible careers platform for ambitious women.
With schools and nurseries shutting down to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, many working parents’ lives will be drastically impacted.
If you’re fortunate enough to work in a job that allows you to work remotely at home, you’ll have new territory to navigate and you’ll have to find a balance between work and home life while you get through this difficult time.
Not only will you have contend with working with children at home but you may potentially be working from home with your partner for the first time too. That’s a lot of variables to be dealing with all at once.
Start with you
Remember: this is not normal life and it will not last. Prepare yourself mentally for the adjustment and accept that you’ll only be able to control what is controllable.
Many of your co-workers may be in a similar position so don’t feel you need to hide what you’re juggling at home because you’ll all be trying to strike a new balance. And even if co-workers aren’t in a similar position, they won’t be clueless to the impact of your new set-up.
Talk to your manager and team to make sure everyone agrees on what’s expected in terms of outputs and commitment. For example, it’s unlikely you’ll be working your usual office hours.
Talk to your children
Firstly, start by talking to your children. Whatever age they are (unless they’re babies, obviously) they understand what’s happening around them – at the very least, they’ll understand that they can see you but not capture your full attention.
Explain you have to work and so you won’t be as available for them. If they’re very young, try explaining why you work – for example, to earn money so you can buy them books and clothes. Older children need less explanation of why you’re working but may still appreciate you being clear about how available you will be during the day.
As well as the fact you’re working from home, children may be feel unclear or anxious about the fact that they’re no longer at school. It might be a good time to sit down with them and allow them to share any concerns they have about the coronavirus outbreak so you can reassure them.
Have a schedule but be flexible
You might feel pressure to replicate school at home. But that’s not necessary. Yes, children are getting a certain amount of hours of education at school but they don’t necessarily need to be getting them at home right now.
Your children’s school may provide guidance and resources to put you at ease but if you don’t get this from the school, there are lots of free resources online, some which were formerly paid-for products. Here is a list of lots of education companies making their materials available for free. And the BBC has changed their schedules to make sure there are more educational programmes on during the day for children at home.
Set a schedule for the day where you set times for work and time to spend with your children. Allow this to be flexible as you adjust to this ‘new normal’ (even if temporary).
Maintaining some habits, like starting work at the time you usually would or having lunch when you usually would, might help you feel more in control as well as giving your family’s day at home some structure.
If you’re in a couple and both of you are newly working from home, then plan to work as a team when working with children at home.
Compare your diaries to check you’re not both on calls at the same time in case you’re needed and to reduce the chances of one of you having to interrupt a call to deal with a situation.
Divvy up time in the day so that you both get some quality time with the children. Discuss what physical space you both need so that you can let your children know. As much as possible, try to keep your workspace separate from where your children will be hanging out. For example, if you both work from the same room as a couple, it may make it easier for your children to distinguish between when you’re working and when you’re ‘home’ and available.
Keep up office socialising
Although you’re now at home, make you’re still taking time to virtually socialise with colleagues if possible. Partly for mental health reasons but also to not lose out on the vital chats that help your work but don’t necessarily happen in formal meetings or email chains.
Your office might have an internal chat system you can use when you’re logged in or if it’s a small company, you might adopt a tool like Slack. Either way, make the most of any communications tools to support more informal communication. As the days and weeks of isolation drag on, you may come to rely on these outlets in more ways than before.
Give yourself a break
This is much easier said than done. You might feel that you want to be the best employee/manager/colleague at the same time as being the best mum/dad/partner/carer that you can be. But these are unique times and people all around the world are having to make big adjustments.
Remember, everyone around you is adapting too and the pressure you’re putting on yourself is much higher than what others expect from you. Balls will be dropped and tensions will arise but ultimately, we’re all trying to make the best of an difficult situation.
If all else fails, we have the internet: source of endless hilarious memes on working from home with kids. You are not alone!