Schools across the UK were ordered to close ‘until further notice’ to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
At the same time, organizations that have avoided being shuttered under the directive of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have moved their operations online or instructed their employees to work from home for the duration of the stay-at-home order.
While the intention behind these efforts is to flatten the curve, they create another major issue for working parents across the UK: How do you work remotely – and effectively, at that – when your home has also become a school and nursery? Below are several tips that I’ve implemented in my own household to help our family navigate these uncharted waters.
Keep the lines of communication open
If your home has suddenly become your new workplace and your children’s school or nursery, then your communication skills will be in greater demand than ever before: both with your boss and your family members.
Have an honest conversation with your boss as soon as possible to understand their expectations and discuss your availability whilst working from home. Depending on the needs and ages of your children, you may need to adjust your working hours to reflect something that’s realistic. For example, you may find it more productive to work early in the morning before your household is awake and then return to work later in the day. Once you’ve both agreed on an arrangement, share your availability with your coworkers, reschedule meetings if necessary, and block off time on your diary when you plan to be offline.
It’s equally important to speak with your family about this new situation so everyone is aware of when mum or dad can play, and when they are ‘at work’ and should not be disturbed (barring an emergency, of course).
Create a new ‘norm’
Children of all ages thrive on structure, and in these uncertain times, it’s never been more important to create one for your entire family. Based on the job demands of your family and your amount of child-care coverage, create a schedule for your household that loosely blocks off time for meals, quiet time, playtime, online schooling and homework, and so forth. The more you can standardize your weekly diary, the easier it will be to manage your children and allow you to be productive. However, don’t stress over maintaining a strict schedule, especially in the beginning. Remember, this is new for everyone – your schedule will be a work-in-progress for some time until you sort out what works best for you and your family. Sometimes, it helps to give your older children some options (e.g. ‘You can choose to practice your maths at either 10 a.m. or after lunch’.) so they feel as though they have more control over their days.
Re-evaluate your meetings
Thankfully, we live in a technological age when it’s easier than ever to conduct business from your home. However, I can tell you firsthand how challenging it can be to participate in a video conference when you have a toddler squealing in the background or climbing up your back. Consider this new situation to be an opportunity to determine which meetings truly need to take place and which could be handled via email or a short Slack exchange.
For the meetings that must take place, try to schedule them during one block of time in your diary each day, preferably when you have someone to mind the children. If your meeting attendees work in a different time zone, take advantage of this fact by scheduling your calls early in the morning or later in the evening when your children are sleeping.
If all else fails, have snacks and movies at the ready when you need to take a call. I’ve found that the same devices and activities I use to occupy my little one on an airplane flight also work well at home when I need quiet time to participate in a work call.
In this stressful time, it’s important to stay connected with others, especially whilst practicing social distancing. Call your loved ones, schedule Google Hangouts, FaceTime gatherings or Zoom meetings to touch base with your friends and family.
In addition, reach out to other working parents to share tips, show support for one another and commiserate when necessary. I’ve personally found solace (and much-needed laughter) from Facebook groups such as Parents Keeping Sane During Coronavirus.
With the help of technology, the support of your friends and family, a little creativity and organization, and lots of patience, you’ll be able to cope with turning your home into a workplace, school, and nursery.