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Working from home with kids

With schools and nurseries shutting down to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, most working parents’ lives will be drastically impacted.

For those fortunate enough to work in jobs that allow them to work remotely with a computer at home, there will be new territory to navigate and a balance between work and home life to be struck in order to get through this difficult period. 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 is a lot of variables to be dealing with all of a sudden!

Start with you

This is not normal life and this will not last. So prepare yourself mentally for the adjustment and accept that you will only be able to control the controllables. Many of your coworkers may be in a similar position so don’t feel the need to hide the juggle of home as you’ll all be trying to strike a new balance. And even if they’re not in a similar position, they can’t avoid seeing it in the news so can’t be entirely clueless to the impact of your new setup. Have a conversation with your manager and team to ensure that everyone agrees on what is expected in terms of outputs and commitment. You won’t be working your usual office hours, that’s for sure!

Talk to your children

Firstly, start by talking to your children. Whatever age they are (unless they’re actually babies), they will have an understanding of what is happening around them - and at the very least they’ll understand that they can see you but not capture your attention fully. It’s best to explain that you have work to do and so won’t be as available to them, and if they’re really young, try explaining why you work i.e. to earn money so you can buy them books and clothes. Older children will need less explanation of why you’re working, but may still need clarity on how available you will be through the day. Added to the fact you’ll be working from home, they may be feeling a little unclear or anxious about the fact that they’re no longer at school. It may be a good time to sit down with them and allow them to share any concerns they have about the coronavirus outbreak and what they’ve heard, and assure them with the knowledge that you have.

Have a schedule but not really

You might feel pressure to replicate school at home. But that’s not necessary. Yes, children are getting X 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 enough guidance and resources to put you at ease, but if you don’t get this from your school, there are lots of resources being made available online for free, some which were formerly paid-for products. Here is a list of all the education companies making their subscriptions free. And the BBC is even switching programming to ensure there are more educational programmes on during the day for children at home. So do a set a schedule for the day where you can set times for work and time to spend with your children, but allow flexibility as you adjust to this new (temporary) normal. By keeping up habits, like starting work at the time you usually would, or getting lunch at the time you usually would, might help you feel a little more in control as well as providing your family with structure.

Team up

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 diaries to ensure that you’re not both on calls at the same time in case you’re needed and reduce the chances of either of you needing 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 as well as aligning calendars, so that you can also communicate this to your children. As much as possible, try to keep your workspace separate to where your children will be hanging out - and if you both choose to work from the same room as a couple, it may make it easier for your children to distinguish between what means work for you and what means being home and available.

Keep up office socialising

Although you’re now at home, ensure you’re still taking time to virtually socialise with colleagues where possible. Partly for mental health reasons, but also to not lose out on vital communications that could help with work but don’t necessarily become apparent in formal meetings or email chains. Your office may have an internal chat system you can utilise when logged in, or if it’s a small company you may newly be adopting a tool like Slack. Either way, ensure that you’re making the most of any communications tools that can support more informal communications. As the days and weeks of isolation drag on, you may come to rely on these outlets in more ways than one!

Give yourself a break

This will be much easier said than done. You want to be the best employee/ manager/ colleague you can be while at the same time needing to be the best mum/ partner/ carer that you can be. But these are really unique times and people all around the world are having to make huge adjustments. Remain conscious of the fact that everyone around you is adapting too and the expectations you have for yourself or the pressure you’re putting on yourself be 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 incomprehensible situation and if all else fails, feel free to turn to the internet, a source of endless hilarious memes on working from home with kids. You are not alone!

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