It’s been mere hours since our First Minister announced that we have 2 days to prepare for the schools closing thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic. Since the story broke on Twitter I’ve already had a frantic phone call with my husband, my mother, and I’ve had a teary call from a friend who is a single working mother. I have 3 children aged 8, 6 and 3 - how on earth am I going to work from home with stir crazy children in the next room?
Firstly, I don’t have all of the answers. I am lucky enough to have a dedicated office space in my home, and I will be working with my husband who will happily take on as much child wrangling as I will, but I know that not everyone is in this good a position – or anything like it. I have, however, been working from home for over 10 years and I have weathered every childhood illness, in service day and snow day going. I once recorded 13 hours of online training material with a new born baby on my knee… so if nothing else qualifies me, I have some experience in remote working with kids.
So here is my guide for parents getting things done while the schools are closed:
- Make a Schedule
If you are not used to working from home, the best suggestion I can give you is: treat it like you are going to the office. Get up at your usual time, get dressed and get started. Make a schedule and stick to it as much as you can. It might take a while, but it means that your children will start to understand that even though you are at home, the rules are different than on a weekend, and until it is a certain time, you are not able to play. It is a two way street though, so when playtime comes – put the laptop away and get playing!
- Communicate with everyone
Speak often to your partner, your kids, your team, your boss – let them all know what you are doing and when. Explain any problems you are facing and share solutions. Communication will stop you from feeling isolated and ensure projects progress as planned with as little interruption as possible.
- Get help when you can
You cannot work non-stop from 9am-5pm with kids in the house if you are the only responsible adult available. Someone is going to need juice when you are on a conference call, or a toddler is going pull the entire pot cupboard out onto the kitchen floor when you need to proof-read a document…you get the idea. I cannot advocate bringing other people in to look after your children at the moment when we are being advised to self-isolate, but if you have someone who can safely help you, do not be too proud to accept the help.
- Work the hours that work for you
If you can, be flexible with your hours. A translator I work with puts in a 7 hour work day, split into two blocks with 7 hours off in the middle while her partner works and she has the children. Consider shifts, get up early, or sleep in and go to bed late, utilise nap times - do what works for you.
- Draw a line somewhere
When the boundaries between work and home, family and business get blurry it can be easy to never fully ‘switch off’. My advice is to be present. Commit to whichever activity you are doing – if it’s playing with the kids, then put the phone down. If it’s work, then set some guidelines for the family, get somewhere quiet, and get focused. Boundaries and guidelines are the remote working parent’s friend!
- Be Mindful
If you have found yourself in a remote working environment that you did not plan on, would not ask for, and generally are not prepared for, it can be hard to stomach the ‘you are so lucky’ comments that others will be making. Try to embrace the change in circumstances by mindfully appreciating the opportunity you have to maintain your career and spend extra time with your children. Be grateful that you get this time to enjoy with them, and that technology and your company are allowing you this opportunity when many others are not so lucky. Try to gain some perspective and practice gratitude as you and your children settle into this new rhythm together.
Things will not go to plan. If things go wrong, the schedule falls apart, and you spend the 30 minutes you had planned for emails on sorting out a dispute over Netflix – it’s ok. Kids will be kids, work will be just as unpredictable, and the shops will continue to run out of toilet roll. Breathe. Speak to your team, your friends and your family. Share war stories with other working parents, take time to yourself whenever you can and celebrate the small victories.
This is my plan anyway, I’ll check in on day 25 of quarantine and see if I’ve stuck to my own goals! Good luck to all the dads and mums out there. Please chat with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to let us know how you are getting on.