REMOTE WORK

Working from home with kids – 8 rules to follow

In the middle of the lockdown, there was a group that was especially burdened by the new reality – parents. Remaining a productive employee while having a preschooler in-house can be exhausting to the point of insanity. But despite being hard, it is not impossible, especially when following several tips we deliver below.

The lockdown can be considered the largest stress-test ever conducted when it comes to workforce management. According to the European Commission report about the remote work after the COVID, up to 40% of the EU-based workforce was transferred to full-time telework. This group includes both the specialists used to the remote work (like IT experts) and those who never experienced it before (the office clerks for example).

Also, all the education has come on-line delivering multiple challenges unseen before, including pranksters hijacking the lesson or pupils using Wikipedia during the class test.

But in the middle of this lockdown-induced madness, there were silent heroes of everyday life – parents.

Working 48/14

During the lockdown, parents and children have faced multiple challenges that were hard to imagine before. Teenagers were experiencing hard times resulting from the separation from their peers and friends. According to the Stanford research, this group has been severely hit by the pandemic reality, with a much higher risk of experiencing anxiety and depression in the future.

Younger children faced a hard experience of staying home with parents who they love, yet they had no time for them – they were at work after all. But for a preschooler, it made no sense – mum and dad are home, not at work, they work in a high building made of glass and steel, right?

Actually, not. But it was hard to understand for a 4-year-old. So in fact, many parents had to work for 24 hours every day to keep their productivity and take care of their children for another 24 hours – there was no school or preschool during the lockdown and they didn’t know what to do with kids during covid. This sums up to 48 hours every day for all 14 days of the week.

It would be funny if it wasn’t true.

How to successfully work from home

The March lockdown ended, but the pandemic is not burning out. According to the article published in Nature, the second wave of the pandemic (that is already coming) can be even more deadly than the first one.

Also, what was done will not be easily undone, and with companies already battle-tested the remote work to be cost-efficient, the paradigm is here to stay for longer. For better or for worse, especially for parents.

So there is no other way than to prepare, so did the Calamari team and prepared a list of tips and suggestions for those locked on the remote work with their children. These are the real ones, not the news from the perfect world of the nearly mute children living in an ever-tidy room. Only battle-tested advice from people working from home with a toddler or school kids.

Be flexible about your schedule

Working eight hours in a row is a myth, with office workers having coffee breaks and physical workers looking for ways to take a quick rest during the day. The need to re-energize is natural and there is no point in proving else.

On the other hand though, when stuffing the work and the re-energizing breaks in an office, individuals can deliver enough time squeezed together to get the job done.

When working from home, this type of work is harder to achieve (yet sometimes desired). When working from home with kids in place, it is literally impossible. Children want to play, need to be supervised, or just burst with energy, needing a quick transfer to the playground to not demolish a house.

As soon as one abandons the hope of working from home in an office-like manner, it gets better. So the best advice is to:

  • Enlist what is to do and cut it into smaller, manageable chunks – it is rarely possible to cut out enough time to handle a bigger task at once,
  • Do only one chunk at a time – multitasking is a killer of performance, and performance is the factor to optimize,
  • Be ready to abandon it when necessary – that’s the reality. The younger kid, the more attention it needs,
  • Be ready to split your working time into several batches a day and don’t panic over it – some work can be done in the evening, with no contact with the rest of the team, while other tasks need to be done during the workday. The key is smart management,
  • Work when you can. Do overtime when possible – over hours can come in handy in the future.

The only way to keep the chaos at the bay while implementing flexible work schedules is to track working time – there is no point in working in the evening if no one (with your boss on the top of the list) doesn’t notice.

Create boundaries

In a perfect world, one would have a home office in a separate room, with a big desk, fancy cork table, and a whiteboard with post-it kanban on it. But it is rarely a reality, despite being one of the most popular tips for moms working from home (and dads too).

According to the Eurostat data, up to 70% of the EU population lives in overcrowded houses, with the share ranging from 51% in Germany to 96.4% in Romania. For many EU citizens, it can be hard to have a desk on his or her own, not to mention a separate room only for work.

Also, supervising younger kids can be challenging while working from a separate room.

Yet there is a strict need to separate space for work and create boundaries. Having a clean part of a table, a desk (if possible), and a computer untouchable for children would be a great idea.

With younger children, a bigger deal of creativity is required. Sometimes drawing a line on a floor can be enough to show a difference between “work zone” and “play zone”. Also, it can be a good idea to ask children how one should show that the work is going on. Children’s perception of the world can be surprising and building a printer from lego bricks only to put it on a desk can be a sign that now “it is a real office” and the parent is really busy.

Be open and transparent with your boss

There is no point in being flexible with the schedule when the boss is not OK with that. In fact, that’s the point that should be done first – setting some clear rules and expectations between the employee and the employer. Or just the manager.

The employee cannot support the myth that his availability will not change when working from home full of preschoolers. And the employer shouldn’t expect that. On the other hand, it is also unrealistic to expect money for nothing.

The reality must be accepted on both sides and the first step toward that is to be open with the boss. If the boss cannot understand that, maybe it is time to change a boss? Ignoring reality is hardly a good idea.

Deliver proofs and be accountable

Following the point above, one should deliver proof that the job is done and some fair metrics to measure the performance. In the end – getting stuff done is the reason for going to work. In fact, being accountable for results is one of the most effective ways to work from home without being accused of slacking.

If the employee comes with the suggested list of metrics to control, he or she delivers a sign of being transparent. The metrics need to be as fair, verifiable, and opinion-agnostic as possible.

If the job is harder to be measured, having a status meeting or a status email every day is a good idea.

Use the technology for your benefit

There are tonnes of online software (either free or paid) that boost productivity, support communication, track the time, and do all the stuff desired. Being a parent working from home requires flexibility and creativity.

So the working parent should actively look for tech-powered solutions when facing a challenge. No clear list of things-to-do? Try Asana. Communication issues?

Come up with Slack to power up the flow. Many of these tools can be connected to deliver a comprehensive business ecosystem. Use it for your own benefit.

Forge new routines

Life is about routines – and working from home is no different. All the things listed above – talking with the boss, setting boundaries, and using new tech tools can be forged into a set of new routines to follow on a daily basis.

When the rules are clear, all the family, including children, can see how to stick to the new reality and over time – get used to it. People are surprised by other cultures and customs mostly due to the unfamiliarity with routines.

Seek help – and use it as much as you can

Being a parent is usually not a solo business. If it is, the situation gets extremely challenging. So the remote-working parent needs to look for help as much as possible and be cautious with rejecting it.

It is reasonable to make a swapping schedule with a partner, with one parent taking care of children and the second one working. If there is a relative willing to help with children, the help can be appreciated.

Some parents hire a part-time nanny to take care of their children during their work. And if it is possible and it works – it can be a huge problem-solver.

Talk with your coworkers

Coworkers can be equally confused about a working parent’s schedule as the boss is. So sometimes a good deal of transparency is required – one can be unsure if the coworker is ignoring the message or simply cannot talk at the moment.

With an extremely flexible schedule, the rest of the team can be uncertain about the time of the delivery of the project – and that’s the next element that needs to be communicated clearly.

Talk with your family

The same goes for family communication. The family can feel abandoned or under when one works from home. Also, there can be multiple misunderstandings regarding the chores, the availability, or the responsibility.

Children also need to understand when the parent is available and when not. Every tension needs to be addressed with open communication. Ruining family life while working from home is a clear path to the catastrophe – it results in creating a toxic atmosphere in a place one cannot even go out – the work is done from home after all.

Take care of yourself (as much as possible)

Last but not least – a parent is also a human who can be tired, annoyed, and burnout – as a parent or an employee. Thus, when locked with children, the key is not to sacrifice oneself on the altar of work and family.

Having an additional hour of sleep more can be a better productivity boost than overworking. An hour of workout (running, yoga, stretching, swimming – you name it) can be a mind-reset and deliver better results. According to the study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, employees report up to 72% improvement in time management and performance in the days when they were exercising.

Summary

The key to survival when working from home with a baby is in agile management and efficiency. Keeping the 8-hour workday is a myth unless it is unavoidable. On the other hand, though, it is better to work for two hours with super-boost than to have unproductive eight hours filled with irritation and frustration.

The reality of lockdown and remote working can be exhausting. Yet sticking to the rules listed above can make it bearable at least and with a good deal of determination – even more effective when it comes to work-life balance.

It is still a bit awkward to take a power nap time in the office after all.

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