Remember when work was a sanctuary, a place to physically go and be something or someone, other than Mum or Dad? Some of us may already have had the working-from-home thing down pat, but for the majority of us, we left home and went somewhere else. Working from home was often viewed as a luxury, or met with scepticism from some employers. We’d do it occasionally when we needed to be around for the plumber or stay home with a sick child.
According to leading demographer Bernard Salt, only 4-5% of the workforce ever worked from home. Then along came Covid 19 and that number has grown to at least 35%, probably more. It may well drop again by next year but as employer trust has increased and productivity has spiked, there is no rush to return to the office. The working-from-home revolution has morphed into a hybrid model and will no doubt change the face of working life permanently.
But what does this mean for us as parents?
Well the upside is we waste less time commuting and we get more family time. But has this reduced our stress levels? Probably not. When you throw kids into the mix, homeschooling, workplace disconnection, and the ever-hovering covid cloud, stress levels are rising.
Moreover, for many of us work isn’t just about income. It’s important for our sense of identity and purpose. But the lines have now become blurred. Our desk is our kitchen bench and our meetings have become covert Zoom calls in a locked bathroom. And even though productivity may have increased initially, it has now flattened as the pressures of combining work and home life collide.
So whether you’re still homeschooling, picking up more of the household responsibilities or taking on more of the ‘cognitive labour’, there are a few things you can do to ease the pressure when working from home.
1. Be Prepared
Plan your days so everyone knows what’s ahead. ParentalEQ’s child development and parenting expert, Professor Marc De Rosnay, tells us that younger kids love structure and predictability. Involve them in the family schedule so they are fully invested. Depending on their ages they can help you prepare snacks, meals, setting up school and games etc. If there are two parents at home, divide and conquer. Take turns in being at ‘home’ or at the ‘office’. Whilst this may be a challenge with smaller kids or with only one parent available, adding structure to the day will still ease the stress. Most importantly, schedule in down time, not just for the kids but also for you, even if it has to be when the kids are sleeping. Work will follow you everywhere so you need to learn to switch off.
2. Be Honest
Talk to your kids about your job. If your kids can see what you do for a living, they’ll take more interest. If you let them know what you’re working on and the meetings you need to have, they are better placed to respect your work.
Be honest and tell your kids that just because you’re ‘home’ it doesn’t mean you’re available. By being upfront about every family member’s schedule, kids will understand when you’re free and when you’re not.
Apologise and offer time with them when you’re done. This may prove harder with little kids who’ll need bigger distractions, but visual clues such as wearing headphones or a stop sign might help. Get them to make the sign – they’ll have fun doing it and once they realize that everyone has to respect their sign, they may be excited to help enforce the no interruptions rule. More importantly remove the sign when you’re free. Take off your headphones or open your office door to show you’re available. If they understand when they can interrupt you, they’re more likely to wait until that time.
3. Be Realistic
Remember you’re at home not the office; so don’t expect to work to the same levels. And even with the greatest of intentions, things will go awry. According to Professor Marc, “good parents get it wrong all the time”. It’s true. We are not perfect parents, and we do not have perfect kids. He advises to try not to get angry when we’re interrupted or distracted. “You don’t want a world where your 3 year old doesn’t come to you when they need you”. We can put structure in place to mitigate any negative outcomes but be realistic and understanding when it all goes wrong. Which it will! So when it comes to meetings and video conferencing, forewarn colleagues of possible interruptions by little people, and learn where the mute button is on your laptop!
4. Be Intentional
When you do spend time with your kids, even if it’s only for short amounts of time on your breaks, be present, be intentional. Activities with our kids should be enriching, not tasks to be completed or goals to be achieved. As Professor Marc says, “the best time to have with your kids is when you lose time with your kids”
Actions speak volumes. Read a bedtime story every night or play Lego to play, rather than to finish a project.
5. Be Thankful
As much as Covid 19 has turned our lives upside down, we can still be thankful for a few things. For some it’s meant extra time with kids. For others it’s provided an opportunity to regroup, and for many it’s made us appreciate the smaller things. On a global scale it has opened up the mental health and awareness conversation and highlighted the work/life balance paradigm. And for those families who’ve been crying out for a more flexible workplace, you are in a unique position. Organisations are finally listening and investing in remote working technology and infrastructure.
Coronavirus has broken down the work-life/home-life barriers and we’ve all been ‘humanised.’ We’ve seen each other in casual attire, and on bad hair days. We know what books are on our shelves, what’s cooking in the kitchen, and what colour our sofas are. We’ve met each other’s kids, pets and various relatives (not always by choice). There is now a level of empathy and understanding that never existed before between employer, employee, parent and child. We are allowed to be parents as well as employees.
So whatever hybrid model you’re currently following, keep at it, be proud of what you’ve achieved and don’t be hard on yourself. Working from home is here to stay. And work’s now just a thing you do, rather than a place you go.
Words by Sam Yetzes
We are ParentalEQ – a parenting platform to raise emotionally strong kids. To learn more, download our app in the App Store or Google Play here.