As this lockdown hits its tenth week, it’s safe to say it’s been a tough one. We all have our reasons to hate it. Businesses are closed, events cancelled, families separated, and a fair share of rain to keep us stuck inside. However, for some, including myself, working from home with kids, homeschooling and parenting has been the biggest challenge.
I recruit Chartered Accountants, and it would be an understatement to say it is business as usual. It’s busier than it’s been in years. So juggling this workload on top of homeschooling a 5yr old and entertaining a 2yr old whilst my wife and I struggle to work full time has undoubtedly proved a challenge. Ten weeks in and no day is the same, but we are more organised now than we were weeks ago. So what are some of the things you can do to make life easier and more productive for everybody?
Talk to your employer
Make sure your employer understands your situation. Some bosses will have children and go through the same things you are, whilst others won’t unless you paint the picture for them. They could be oblivious to your situation.
Likewise, set expectations with clients/customers and, in recruitment terms, candidates. Many of them will be in the same situation. In contrast, the lockdown for others will mean they have more time on their hands, so a slower response from you will seem odd.
Prioritise the work
Prioritising your workload should happen under normal circumstances but becomes far more critical when time is limited. I’m personally someone that will often put my hand up at work for projects or additional responsibilities. This isn’t the time for that. Focus on the core part of your job, and do that well.
Have a schedule
My day is planned from the minute I climb out of bed to the minute I get back in. Things often go awry but the framework is there. More importantly, my colleagues, wife and children know when I am working and when I am not. My children know when it’s daddy time, and my colleagues contact me when I’m in work mode. We often set a list of activities the night before, so the children know roughly how their day will look like the next day. Kids like structure too.
Switch any distractions off when with your children
My kids are great. As a rule, they are well-behaved, but lockdown is tough on them as well. They’re used to the stimulation of other children and the school/kindy environment. My kids do, however, start to play up if they have no attention. In the early weeks of the lockdown, I would hang out with them during my stint parenting/teaching but would be glued to my phone waiting for that work email to arrive. I have temporarily switched my email off on my phone. I give my children my full attention for an hour and find they are playing much better together as they don’t have to compete with my work. It’s hard to switch off from work for an hour to go and play Lego. At first, I felt like I was cheating my employer. The reality is far from it. My wife is as committed, so when it’s my time to work, I am twice as productive, my kids are behaving, which means I’m not distracted, and I make a good portion of the time up in the evening.
Switch off distractions when it’s time to work
I live in a townhouse, and it’s impossible not to hear my children playing whilst trying to work in the other room. For the first few weeks, I would storm out to break up fights. I would hear somebody crying and want to know what had happened as it’s the dad in me. But after a while, I realised that it was my wife’s job whilst I was working. I now wear noise-cancelling headphones whilst I’m working and let my wife deal with the disputes between my children. If it’s anything serious, she will tell me. I’m not looking at social media and wait until the end of the day before I go looking for covid updates.
Managing school work
We have to get school work done in and amongst my own work and play with the children. Whilst some of the older children may be a little more independent, my 5-year-old certainly still needs supervision. Her work is no different to my work, and we applied the same logic. We set expectations with the school, and they are aware of our situation at home. We found that several school zoom meetings were not educational and were more of a kids catch up. So we have prioritised the educational ones. My lunch break is now about helping my daughter complete her school activities. Again we prioritise the educational activities that need our help. If she misses a school work activity, it will be like ‘make a picture out of food’, not a reading activity.
Come rain or shine, we make sure we are out of the house once a day for a walk/bike ride or scoot. My kids would typically come home from school/kindy knackered from a full-on day of learning and playing. Within the first few weeks, it became apparent quickly they still needed to burn off this energy.
For my wife and I to get in our 8ish hour days, it’s clear we have to work early in the morning and into the evenings to achieve this. However, this over a more extended period isn’t sustainable. I now make sure that I switch off at 5 pm and do something with the kids at least once a week, usually a Wednesday. A movie night is a big hit and provides some good downtime from work and children.
Kindness and respect
It’s important to take the time to look after yourself. Be kind to those around you and listen and watch for signs of stress. After all, everyone’s stress level is different.
Every parent’s situation will be different, and I’m lucky that I work from home and can be there for my children. We hope this is just short term with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, but I would be keen to hear about what others are doing to manage a similar situation.
There are many understanding employers out there within professional services, if yours isn’t, there’s never been a stronger job market to find one. If you work in a Chartered Accountancy firm then I would love to hear from you.