As COVID-19 continues to spread, the Great British lockdown is underway. Pubs, clubs, gyms, shops, restaurants - all shut. Schools are too, which means (kids of key workers notwithstanding) an entire nation’s children are suddenly indoors. Meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to have kept your job, you should now be working from home, unless it is impossible for you to do so. If you’re a working parent, this creates an inevitable conflict. Achieving peak productivity when working from home is a battle in itself. (For advice, we’d highly recommend reading our complete Work From Home Guide.)
Add energetic-yet-bored kids into the mix - who may, but may not, have virtual learning provided by their school - and the battle may feel like an unwinnable war.
And yet, while there is no perfect or easy solution, a balance is possible. Follow the below suggestions, and you’ll discover a whole host of simple, actionable steps towards a happy home and job well done.
Balancing work and kids at home
1. Over-communicate and set expectations
Talk with your boss to set realistic expectations for this new working arrangement. Explain that while you’ll by no means slack off, there’s only so much anyone can achieve when juggling a full-time job and childcare. These are chaotic times, so a good employer will understand the complexity of the situation. Indeed, they may be experiencing something similar. Hopefully, they’ll be supportive of your needs, and agree to tweaking your schedule or goals.
Also, ask your manager and colleagues for weekly (or even daily) check-ins via video chat. Frequent communication will ensure your boss understands the progress you’re making, plus any changes you require and support you need. For example, explain up-front that noise levels may spike occasionally and that, should something kick off in the next room, you’ll need to step away to put out any (hopefully metaphorical) fires.
2. Practise time management and set a schedule
Carve out time, as needed, for caregiving duties. Remember that eight uninterrupted work hours is probably a fantasy - so don’t bother trying. Instead, add regular breaks into your schedule to check on your children, and engage them in games, exercise or learning. If you can, include them in the scheduling process, so they know when it’s time for lunch, but also when it’s vital you concentrate and would appreciate some quiet. It may help to mimic their school day, as it’s a routine they’re used to and maintains consistency.
- 8am - 10am: Breakfast and inside playtime
- 10am - 1pm: Virtual learning (preferably supplied by school)
- 1pm - 1:30pm: Lunch
- 1:30pm - 2:30pm: Rest/reading time
- 2:30pm - 4:30pm: Group project (art, science, cooking etc)
- 4:30pm onwards: Standard evening routine
If possible, try to sync schedules with your partner. This will mean you can tag in and out of parenting duties throughout the day, with clear blocks of time for focused work. Share your schedule with your manager and team, as this will signal when calls and meetings are most convenient.
3. Set boundaries (with work and your kids)
The great thing about boundaries is that everyone knows where they stand. And, at a time when COVID-19 has shredded the rulebook, setting clear rules allows you to claw back some control. Moreover, doing so helps you and your coworkers - and you and your kids - understand each other a little better.
- Communicate your availability. This includes when you’ll start and finish work for the day, when you’ll take breaks, and the best (as in quietest) times to catch you for a meeting.
- Delegate. Only take on what is achievable, as over-committing will cause undue stress. Hand off any work you cannot take on, then tell your manager so they understand your needs, and don’t hound you for work that’s not yours.
- Provide your emergency contact information, just in case. Explain what qualifies as an emergency (you’d be surprised how many people think 40-minutes without an email reply is cause for alarm), and maybe supply your partner’s phone number, too.
- Clearly set out your - and their - schedule for the day. Stick it to the fridge. Explain when you’ll be around, when you’ll be at work, and also any periods you can’t be disturbed unless it’s an absolute emergency.
- Designate a part of the house as your office. It could be a floor, a room, or corner of the kitchen. This should be a quiet space with a physical boundary, and others should acknowledge this is now your office. They wouldn’t play football through your previous one, so they shouldn’t do it here, either.
- Create a system for your workspace that signals your availability. This might be a thumbs up/down, a red/green light, or even something more direct (‘Please come in.’/’Go away!’). Involve your kids - it will inject a bit of fun, while making them aware that, when the sign says so, you must not be disturbed.
4. Take advantage of free resources
In hope of bringing light to these objectively dark times (and to occupy kids across the country), free resources are cropping up everywhere. They vary wildly - some are to educate, others to entertain - yet any one might buy you some precious time. Here are several to consider:
- BBC Bitesize: If COVID-19 has taught us anything (beyond the importance of hand-washing), it’s the BBC’s status as a national treasure. Bitesize has been going for yonks, and is a free online study resource designed to help with learning, revision and homework.
- BBC Teach: Yep, them again. This time, BBC presenters bring subjects to life via live and pre-recorded video lessons.
- Duolingo: Your kids need to brush up on their languages but, so exhausted from juggling your job and their home-schooling, you struggle with English. Don’t fret, Duolingo provides free, fun, kid-friendly language lessons.
- Twinkl: One of the largest education platforms around, Twinkl has made more than 600,000 free home learning packs available to parents, so kids can stay on top of their studies.
- Quizlet: Using AI to spot areas where a student is struggling, Quizlet tailors its courses to address problem areas, just like a human teacher would.
- Khan Academy: Khan Academy is a nonprofit that seeks to provide a world class education to anyone, anywhere, for free. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, it has launched a host of dedicated resources, including daily lesson plans.
- P.E With Joe: A UK-wide lockdown. No parks, gyms or leisure centres. Millions of kids stuck home. Sounds like a time bomb of unspent energy, doesn’t it? Then thank the fitness gods for Joe Wicks (aka The Body Coach), who is laying on a free, 30-minute workout aimed at kids, every weekday morning on YouTube. Two million joined in for the first session on 23 March. If you want to exhaust your kids before you self-isolate in your workspace, this might be just the thing.
- #Hometasking: Inspired by the Taskmaster TV show, comedian Alex Horne is setting our newly indoors nation three tasks a week (the first: “Throw a piece of paper into a bin… spectacularly”). Competitors upload their efforts to Twitter - the more elaborate the better - for the Taskmaster, Greg Davies, to pass judgement (and bestow points.)
- Harry Potter: To support educators around the world, J.K. Rowling has granted an open licence for all Harry Potter books, which means teachers can freely read them aloud to students. Admittedly, this needs to be done on a school’s own, secure network, so if it’s not being offered by your kids’ school, you’ll have to make enquiries. Alternatively, just dust off your own copies, and read to your kids over lunch.
- Code Break: Code.org has launched a free, weekly webcast to teach coding and computer science to kids and adults alike. In addition to learning, there are challenges for novice coders, experienced ones, and even those without computers.
- The Artful Parent: Convincing children to put down their devices isn’t easy. Luckily, The Artful Parent is crammed full of creative arts and crafts to engage a distracted child’s mind. Think leaf sculptures, observational drawing and DIY playdough. So fun, you may struggle not to get involved yourself.
5. Take breaks
It’s important to take breaks. That’s true in any job, but especially when working from home, and even more so when working from home with kids. Far too many people work themselves into the ground - fearing their boss will assume they’re skiving - when, in reality, breaks can boost productivity and limit the risk of burnout.
For a balance between work and play, consider the Pomodoro Method. You focus for 25-minutes, then take a mandatory break for five. This time is 100% yours, so take a short walk, do some breathing exercises, or simply make coffee, grab a snack, or respond to your WhatsApp messages; whatever helps you feel rested. After four cycles, you get 15-minutes off. Then repeat.
Yes, working from amid COVID-19 is undoubtedly stressful. But know that you’re not alone. Communicate with your employer and colleagues, as well as your partner and your kids. Set expectations. And boundaries. Take advantage of the growing list of free, incredible resources. Be kind to yourself - take regular breaks. Small steps like these, when put together, will make your time working from home with kids much easier.
Have your own strategy for working from home with children around? Then join the conversation on Indeed Community. We’d love to hear them.