10 Tips to Help You Work from Home During COVID-19 with Your Kids Around
Many countries around the world are now in lockdown mode due to the global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Several national governments have issued directives, legislations, and guidance that strictly restrict the movement and the gathering of people in public places, postpone sports events, impose stringent border controls, and close schools.
As a result, an increasing large number of businesses and organisations across all business sectors have adapted some sort of remote work (i.e. telework) positions, instructing their members of staff to work from home in-line with directives from their respective national governments, health authorities, and national security agencies.
In the UK, schools, colleges, and crèches (kindergartens) are effectively closed from end of day Friday, 20 March 2020 until further notice, except to children of key workers, as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a previous article, I wrote about 8 key ways that businesses and organisations can manage disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. One of such ways, as I’d written in the article, is for businesses and organisations to ensure that their employees are sufficiently equipped and empowered to perform their daily tasks efficiently from remote locations like their respective homes.
Now, you need to work from home and you’ve got your kids at home with you as well because their schools are closed. How do you keep your job productivity and mental health in good stead whilst working from home and maintaining vibrant and active family routines?
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.
Here are some suggestions and tips to help you excel during these unprecedented times:
Make sure you have the right technologies and tools for remote working
Well, to remote work at the first place, you’d need to have the right technologies, tools, access, and permissions required for effective remote working.
If necessary and applicable, you’d need to have collaboration tools installed and activated on the laptop you intend to use for work related matters.
Also, you may need to ensure that you have correct and active credentials to connect to your business network from your home, via your organisation’s virtual private network (VPN).
For sound security reasons, and depending on network and remote work policies in place at your business or organisation, you may not be allowed to use your personal laptop to connect to business network.
If your organisation has an active policy on Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and enabled the feature with the organisation, ensure that you have the feature enabled and activated on your work account.
And yes, make sure you have reliable and secure internet connection in your home. The last thing you want (or at least one of the last things you’d want) is to have your organisation’s data and information breached because of a possible weakness or flaw in your home internet network.
Schedule short bursts – Max 2-hour blocks no more than twice each business day for work
Whilst working from home generally gives you control over your schedule, you could quite easily run of time, energy, or even both when you don’t have a work schedule in place or when you don’t follow your work schedule.
According to Jessica Stillman, researches over several decades have shown that the average knowledge worker is productive for no more than 4 hours each day.
Your productive 4 hours do not necessarily have to be split into 2-equal-blocks of 2 hours each. You should be flexible enough to move your productive hours into whatever ratio is most fitting for you each day, as long as you work with set goals and objectives for each day.
The need to set goals for each day and time limits for each task of the day helps you evaluate how productive and efficient you’d been for the day.
Examples of time-blocks you could use each day include 30-minute, 45-minute, 60-minute, 90-minute, and 2-hour blocks, so long as no single block is unreasonably greater than 2 hours.
The Harvard Business Review postulates that the average full-time worker in the US spends over 2.5 hours checking and responding to email each day. Perhaps a more effective way to manage this could be to check and respond to your work emails in 2 separate blocks of 30 minutes each; barring emergencies and critical incidents that may require your immediate attention – first block at the start of the day and the other block towards the tail-end of the day.
How you distribute your productive 4 hours each day would, of course, depend on your tasks and activities for each day. For example, as a manager or a team lead, you could schedule regular conference call or video chat meetings with your remote team 2 or 3 times each week for no longer than 30 minutes.
Let your work team and colleagues know you’re available and reachable. But you also need to be very careful about giving the misleading and wrong impression that you’re available 24/7, because that will most certainly lead to burnout.
If you have 2 adults in your home, you could set up a mutually acceptable schedule so that both adults can take turns to care for the children. And yes, it’s always be very useful to help the children understand and embrace this whole new way of doing things around your home.
Maintain a designated workspace in your home for work
You need to set aside a workspace in your home, for work. If you’ve got a spare bedroom in your home, you could use that as an office, for example.
And if you have no spare bedroom in your home or if you live in apartments, you can setup a section of space specifically for work. This doesn’t need to be a “permanent” setup; just the workspace you go to each time you need to focus on work matters and do your job from home.
The need for a workspace dedicated specifically to work alone cannot be overstated as working from home can come with more distractions than working in a more traditional setting. So, taking the time and efforts to deliberately mark out your workspace within your home would help you minimise such distractions.
Make time for play and helping the children
When you are at home working, your regular workday schedules and activities will most certainly take a different form, even more so with your kids at home.
Yes, you’re right, your kids are home with you! But they are certainly not on what we would typically call regular school holiday season.
So, you all need to establish a plan that caters for everyone and accommodates the needs of each person. Think of it as an opportunity that provides everyone the platform to voice their views/thoughts and to be visibly and clearly heard.
Collectively come up with questions that everyone feels need a response, and then collectively take some time to mutually agree on the best fitting responses.
Share with your children what your new daily routine will be, what time blocks are for work, for play, for schoolwork, for home-schooling, for breaks, exercise, & relaxing, for meals, and for general family reconnection with each other.
Wherever and whenever possible and reasonable, you should let your children to play outside, as this is a good way to help them exercise and dissipate some energy. Michael Thompson offers some advice on good times to play with younger children such as after their wake-up routine.
Well, I know one piece of medical advice I won't be following in these times, and it is the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines on screen time.
— Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) March 13, 2020
Once you’ve all collectively agreed and come up with a plan, you need to display strong commitment skills and this involves dedicated leadership. And one way that you could do this is sticking to the agreed routine as closely as possible.
It’s also okay to allow your kids to have more screen time. Several websites provide educational resources to help kids stay abreast with school curriculum and learning. Some of these resources are either generally always free or provided free of charge during the duration of school closure.
Get some fresh air whenever you can
It is very important that both adults and children are able to take breaks from schedule activities and get some fresh air whenever possible. This may be as simple as taking a few minutes to take a walk or if you have a backyard, taking time to play. It is important for both adults and children to mentally recharge during the day for emotional and mental health.
Outside play helps children develop motor skills and contributes to physical health as well by allowing children to get vitamin D, increasing attention spans, and improving sensory skills according to Dr. Lund from Sanford Health.
Stay connected to your work colleagues and children to their classmates
Generally speaking, we all need to be connected to our colleagues, friends, and family to stay productive and not feel isolated. Without communication, it can be easy to get off-task or feel isolated.
To keep in touch with friends and colleagues, you and your loved ones should feel free to use any of the several technologies and tools available to you including emails, phone calls, Skype, Teams, WhatsApp, Messenger, Zoom, FaceTime, Xooloo, etc.
Set weekly goals not daily goals
The reason for this is simple: working with children at home can be unpredictable, especially at younger ages. A child that usually takes a nap may be sick or fussy or it can just be a difficult day.
You should stick to weekly goals and objectives that you need to accomplish. These can be broken down into smaller tasks that you can complete daily (checklists or schedules are helpful).
Whiteboards with goals are also useful and appropriate especially if multiple adults are working together in the same household. Tasks that require lots of concentration can be made easier. Instead of trying to draft a whole report focus on paragraphs or points.
The same can be said of children and homework. Breakdown daily goals for your children into small bits rather than one big chunk that can be overwhelming, especially at home where there are more distractions.
Your children may also benefit from visual systems to keep track of their progress, and reward-type systems are good motivators to help children focus and feel accomplished.
Expect the unexpected
Working from home with children is nearly always unpredictable, and even the best laid plans can go awry. You should to expect this, and be prepared to explain the situation to your employer.
You shouldn’t expect all of your plans to work perfectly because life happens – there will be distractions and interruptions. You should have the habit of regularly saving what piece of tasks you are working on your laptop. And your children should regularly backup their homework assignments.
Once you’ve setup a routine and schedule, you need to establish boundaries with your children and your partner.
Your children need to understand the boundaries of what they are not allowed to do when you’re in “work” mode. Your designated workspace in your home will need to be a no-play area and only used for work related activities.
How can you ensure that such boundaries set are properly observed by your children? This means practicing how to observe boundaries with your children, to help them develop better understanding of the concept and expectations.
Money Crashers offers some suggestions on how you could practice observing set out boundaries and rules set during office or work time with your children: “First, figure out which tasks you do during your workday that demand no interruptions, For most parents, this will be phone calls or video meetings. Then talk to your kids about what they need to do when they notice you’re doing this activity… Give them specific instructions.”
You will need to firm and consistent with the boundaries set, but also patient; it takes time for children to practice and learn good behaviour.
Reward good behaviour
So, here is the rub: regardless of how many goals you set, how many boundaries you set, how many rules you set, and how many times you practice all these with your children, chances are that you children will almost certainly break some rules and interrupt some of your meetings and phone calls.
Life happens, what else can I say?
The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.
One very effective way to deal with these is to keep track of good behaviour and reward the behaviour when rules are followed.
For example, with younger children if a puzzle or game is started, if your children complete this before you check on them, you can reward them with a “good behaviour” book where they get a small reward or sticker. This can easily lead to even bigger rewards such as you watching a film with your children, going for a bike ride, making snacks together, having them paint your face, etc.
Hopefully, you find these tips useful. But perhaps the most important tip yet is taking good care of your physical health, emotional health, and mental health. Don’t neglect yourself and don’t stress out over working from home.
This is very much for you as it is for every member of your family.
You all need to look after yourselves very carefully; eat right, get enough sleep, take care of basic hygiene, take small regular breaks, have short walks, call a friend or a family member just to chat, and sing aloud in the bathroom.
Wirecutter seems to suggest that you should try keep the vibe in your home calm, and avoid being on coronavirus news too much.
I’d say that I seem to agree with that suggestion.