All parents who have to work from home amid the coronavirus pandemic can relate to the one and only: the BBC dad. We all laughed out loud when Robert Kelly, a political science professor in South Korea, was hilariously interrupted by his children, right in the middle of an interview from his home with the BBC.
However, ever since the coronavirus pandemic, most of us have seen our routines turned upside down. With daycares and schools closing, remote working the new reality, and “social distancing” restrictions making sure that the entire family is cooped up at home, it can be extremely difficult for those of us with kids to get maybe two or three hours of quality work done a day.
Pointing to her restless kids, Kelly Morgan, a web designer, says “They’ve got nothing to do. They’re climbing the walls. There are only so many games you can play and puzzles you can do before they just kind of, you know, run around.”
While people around the world practice social distancing to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, working parents over the globe are trying to juggle work with the relentless demands of their kids, with no access to playdates, babysitters, camps, and even doting grandmas who could previously be counted on to get through a snow day or a school break.
While for many, the prospect of working from home has always seemed idyllic, the reality of having to juggle a hectic family life with daunting work commitments simultaneously can be daunting.
Who knows how long we are stuck in this dilemma, and let me tell you this: it isn’t a perfect situation, but there are a few strategies you can use to make things a tad bit easier and balance your career and children without losing productivity:
Have A Designated Workspace
First things first, you need a designated place from where you can work without incessant interruptions.
Sadly, those living in close quarters do not have the luxury of a separate space, but those who can assign a designated spot to spend their working day, will be better able to stay focused and maintain productivity. Ideally, what you can do is to clear a space in your house where you can shut yourself in during work hours.
This is great for your sanity as well. Having a separate workplace makes the transition from work to “home” so much easier and ensures that your house feels like a home at the end of the workday. As for me, I am surely most productive when working away from communal areas in the family home.
Schedule Two Sets Of Deep Work In A Day
A study conducted on 185 million workers found that an average employee is only productive for an overall period of two hours and 48 minutes through the day. Depending on the schedule of your kids, you can carve out two sets of time for deep work, so that you actually end up increasing productivity, even with kids at home.
Even better, if your partner is remotely working these days as well, taking shifts is a no-brainer. If your kids are not early birds, try waking up super early to get the most important work out of the way before they wake up. If that’s not in the cards, schedule your deep work period during their afternoon nap. If you still have a few urgent tasks left, try moving your kid’s bedtime up an hour, so that you can finish up your work while you still have a bit of energy left.
Be Up Front With Your Boss
Working a rigid 9-5 shift while juggling the antics of kids, is impossible. You might need to adjust your work schedule so that you can monitor your kids as well. However, you can’t just adjust your work schedule before taking to your boss or HR. Remember that this is a national crisis, not just your personal issue.
Start the discussion by contextualizing the news and conveying your facts in an unambiguous way. End your conversation with a clear action play so as not to alarm your boss.
For instance, when I was transitioning to work from home with two children in tow, who I also now have to home school for the time being, I created a schedule and shared it with my boss so that he knows exactly when I am available for collaboration. But with that, I promised to maintain the level of excellence that is expected of me, and committed to remain in close communication with all my team mates so that we are all on the same page with regards to our goals.
Clear and transparent conversation helps everyone; you, your boss, your team, and the entire organization. When you communicate your needs clearly, you not only ease your own life, but also eliminate the element of uncertainty. This would also encourage your co-workers, who are struggling with balancing work and family life, to speak up and address the matter.
Communicate With Your Coworkers
No matter what you do, know this: you children will sabotage your best-laid plans and interrupt your work. They will photobomb your video calls, they will scream exactly when you unmute that important call with a client, they will try to get your attention using the most uncanny tactics, or you may need to keep them busy for minutes at a time to burn off some of that relentless energy.
Before you feel guilty about abruptly ending a call or keeping a co-worker waiting for a reply, realize that you are making the best of an unprecedented situation and your co-workers will eventually develop an understanding of your situation if you warn them ahead of time.
For instance, if I am in the midst of a conference call and anticipate unavoidable noises in the background, I make sure to lightly make a mention of what might be coming at the beginning of a conversation. This way when my kids do occasionally scream murder, people are a little more prepared and not as thrown off by the distraction.
Most importantly, if you are collaborating with a few co-workers on a project, you need to let them know of your fallbacks. For instance, on my first day of remote working, I told all my teammates how I might be working odd hours (nap times, early mornings, burning the midnight oil) to get everything done, and how I might not sometimes be available during office shifts.
Additionally, how they can expect to hear my kids in the background whenever they call for meetings. I also emailed my revised working hours to everyone I work with so that they know when I am available. Additionally, I make a habit of putting the mic on mute whenever it is someone’s else turn to speak, so as to minimize distraction.
Focus On Weekly Goals, Not Daily Ones
Inconsistency is the only consistent thing about working remotely with kids! Time flies, days turn into weeks. I cannot put in 9 hours of work each day, which means that I may have some tasks remaining at the end of my day. However, I try to win my war by focusing on weekly goals, instead of pulling my hair out about achieving all of my daily ones.
Be upfront with your boss about what needs to get done each week. Set weekly goals and milestones and break them down into extensive tasks that demand deep work and those that won’t take up much of your mental prowess.
Perhaps It would be impossible for you to pen down an editorial piece on Monday, but alternately you can shoot off some emails or knock out some paperwork you’ve been putting off for a while. Small actions keep you moving forward, and you will eventually have time throughout the week where you can get down to your larger tasks.
Establish A Routine For Work From Home
People thrive on routine, and so do children. This is why it is all the more important these days to set out some kind of structure for the day. No need for a sophisticated routine, just be sure to add plenty if reading and play time through the day. Those who have the luxury of a garden can leverage it to their advantage. Try to get your kids involved there for at least one hour a day. Being outdoors is extremely important for our health and sanity, and your garden is the only way you can be outdoors during isolation. Whatever you decide to do, write out your schedule (including which parent is on primary kid duty if you’re trading off) and pin it to the refrigerator or the wall so that your spouse and kids can refer to it throughout the day.
With schools closed off, its’s important to put in “school” time every day, too. If your kids’ schools have set up remote learning and provided your kids with course resources, follow the plan and use the material. If not, you can use the free resources online to make home schooling fun. If you have a toddler at home, set up a routine for them as well. Think activity times, play time, nap time, snack times, mealtimes and bedtimes. Once they start sticking to their schedule, you can structure your day around their routine and communicate it to your colleagues.
When it comes to screen time, Rationing the “fun time” is an important part of your child engagement strategy. If you must allow two hours of screen time, use it for when you have an important meeting or when you must focus on work, so that your kids won’t come climbing on your back every so often.
Are you also working at home with kids? What are you doing to keep your kids off your back and maintain productivity?