Working from home for some people has been a novelty during this COVID-19 crisis. It certainly has had its challenges especially for those who have school-aged children or younger.
I have worked for myself for 11 years and during this time most of it has been at home, so although my business is well set up for remote work – I too was not prepared for the challenges we face with your entire family also working from home. In fact, as I type this I am sitting on the floor in my bedroom next to my 18-week old daughter while she plays on her mat/baby gym.
Although there are podcasts and blogs as well as webinars on how to work effectively from home during COVID-19, I have not come across many that tackle the topic with children thrown into the mix.
So this article is not just based on my experience. I have also asked some of my clients who are also challenged with full-time work with school-aged children and asked them how they are coping as well.
Not only working from home is challenging to the worker, but these times will also expose true leadership over management and dare I say micromanagement, as expectations and communication is challenged. For managers of families with school-aged children, flexibility and understanding will be required. Having said that this is not a licence to get out of work, but work around your family if possible.
For me, I run my own business, but I still work for others – my clients and my assistant so my challenge is to manage their expectations of when I can get the work done.
At home, we have my daughter who is 4.5 months old, I also have 3 sons aged 12, 14 and 16. My husband (my sons’ stepdad) also works, and up to a few weeks ago my stepdaughter was also here studying and working from home too, plus we have a family friend who also lives here.
Here is how I am managing my workload and time. (disclaimer – I am using the term managing quite loosely here as some days I don’t feel like I am managing anything at all).
My clients know I have children; however, I don’t want this to be the excuse for not getting the work done. I have said to my clients if they reach out to me and I do not respond to the call or email, I will get back to them within 24 hours. Sometimes I am dealing with a crying baby, feeding a hungry son or even going out to the park to get the baby settled and/or the boys some exercise so I cannot take calls. This initially caused me a lot of anxiety because I felt like I was not working.
I use Slack to communicate with my assistant Divina throughout the day when I can’t be at my desk. This way I can give her tasks and answer questions or even respond through her to a client inquiry – all done on my phone. Many days I am with my baby and working away just on my phone. It is amazing what you can achieve.
Managing my own expectations has been the hardest thing for me to do. I am task-orientated and some days I expect to knock out a list of tasks and manage to just get one done.
Over the weeks of being in isolation with my kids home, I have had to change my priorities and focus on getting as much admin done via “Slack” through Divina and only work on one client/case at a time – which can take a few days. I would beat myself up over this but in communicating with my clients I realised I am not alone. We are all facing some level of challenges.
Time management and self-discipline
Ok, so I started to write this yesterday and now it is 9:08 pm and I am at my desk. I want to get this out because I feel it needs to be shared. Kids are in their rooms and the baby is asleep. This is my chance to get some uninterrupted time to work. It is amazing how much can be accomplished when you have uninterrupted work time. I try and get as much as I can do in these moments.
Yes, my days are long, but they are broken up by regular communication with my clients and Divina via Slack. I schedule all zoom meetings during my daughter’s nap times – usually in the middle of the day. I set up my laptop in the mornings at the dining table when my sons are motivated to do their schoolwork, things change by lunch…. Which leads me to my next point.
I email when I can with my phone… my clients are used to it. I cannot beat myself up if my signature is not always present with every email. The fact is I am present, I am responding and constantly thinking of how I can assist and serve regardless if I am feeding my baby or I am in the kitchen making lunch or a cup of tea.
Pick your battles
This one I owe to my mother, I carry this advice as a business woman, a mother a wife/partner, a friend and sister… life is hard enough to sweat the small stuff and right now we find ourselves in an endless pressure cooker so the best advice is to pick your battles and also cool your jets. I have 3 teenage boys a newborn baby, a husband, a stepdaughter and a friend who live under this roof, the idiosyncrasies could create world war 3 if we allowed it.
So when it comes to around lunchtime when I need (and hope and pray) to get my daughter to sleep for her 2 hour day nap, I am no longer in control over my boys “home-school” regime and as invested in this as I may be, I am not a teacher and I am at this point in the day willing for my baby to sleep so I can work at a computer at my desk and get some solid focus on some tasks at hand, I let the boys go…. This is an interesting exercise as it shows me who has the self-discipline to stick out the day, and if they disappear to their rooms then that is ok too. I cannot do it all and I know that if I push it, I will have a battle on my hands that I just don’t have time or the energy for. Again I can beat myself up over this (and believe me I have) but as the weeks have passed by, I have just had to “let it go”.
You are not alone, I am not alone
I wanted to write this because we are all finding ourselves in such unique and challenging times. We are all in this storm together (although in different boats). And for those who can relate to this, know you are doing a great job. If you are managing to get some work done and be somewhat present with your family, then you are a true asset to your organisation because it takes more than just a little discipline to work from home when you have children needing you to.
On a final note, I write this for my clients, who I know are just hanging in there by a thread…. Some are self-employed and have had to close their businesses, for the time being. They are trying to enjoy this time with their children, but the financial stress can be overwhelming. There are other clients of mine who are in a similar boat as me but must be present with their employers during the 9-5 period which is almost impossible with children who need their attention. I work with single parents and couples stuck under the same roof but going through a separation. None of this is easy, but if you can take some wisdom out of this, then be kind to yourself. You will get through it and so will I.