As news of this 3rd lockdown was announced I, along with most of the UK’s working parent population braced myself for the now familiar feeling of trepidation. Whilst current school closures have again gifted me with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids than ever before; my wife and I now face the challenge of balancing our dual roles of working from home and home schooling. Perhaps ‘balance’ is an optimistic vocabulary choice – more often we resemble a pair of somewhat weathered ships in choppy waters, swaying precariously between the rocks.
Whilst the elusive ‘work/life’ balance may feel further out of reach than ever before as we take on our new roles as unqualified and unpaid substitute teachers; I have discovered a few nuggets of wisdom along the way as both a parent, an employer and a manager that might help those of you in the same boat (pun intended).
First and foremost, we must remember we are now working from home – we are not ‘living at work’ and this distinction is important. Accepting that you will need to allow yourself flexible working patterns is the first important shift in your own mind-set.
Secondly, your new ‘colleagues’ are (probably) much more demanding of your time! Children haven’t quite mastered universal work etiquette yet - turning up to meetings where their presence is unexpected and unwanted and requiring multiple emergency snack breaks at inconvenient times of the day (you being the ‘office’ caterer, naturally).
The national lockdown, if nothing else, has arguably been a great leveller of experience amongst working parents. To really flog the analogy, employers, bosses and employees are now sailing in similar waters and facing some of the same challenges in managing our homes; children and jobs. Therefore, as a boss my expectations of ‘core hours’ in a sales environment and my understanding of my employees daily challenges is probably more sympathetic than it ever has been.
Juggling childcare and your career is challenging, especially now that you need to juggle them simultaneously. With this in mind, here is my advice on surviving the current voyage of home-school and home-working from my perspective as a parent, an employee and a boss:
1. Transparency is key! Be honest and up front with your boss and your colleagues so that they are aware that your daily schedule will likely not be exactly the same every day. No matter how stringent you are with your routine; children will be children so plan for the unexpected! At the end of the day, you are home schooling your children, but you are also their fulltime care giver. A head stuck in a banister will immediately take priority over anything. As bosses it helps us to know your home situation so we can offer support more adequately. For example, your company could consider moving the times of important meetings to outside of the school day.
2. For young children, do not feel like their school day has to start and end at same time that it normally would. It’s okay to check your own emails first and plan for the day ahead before helping the kids get started.
3. Who knew my wife would become my colleague?! If you have important meetings or deadlines, share these with your spouse and vice versa. Be a tag-team, taking responsibility for the kids when the other is on important calls or just needs to block time out to power through work.
4. Single parenting – This must be very tough at the moment; my advice would be to talk honestly to your employer about your situation and working flexibly.
5. If you have occasional ‘non-negotiable’ days at work where you can’t block out the time to help your children with schoolwork, ask for help from the school. Let your children’s teachers know that your child will be unsupported on a particular day – they might be able to help. Online tutorial videos and the educational programming on the BBC can also be extremely helpful, there are many online educational videos out there.
6. Create a reward system for completing tasks (perhaps make one for yourself too!). Create a task sheet so they can tick off what they have completed. Use whatever motivates them as a treat for completing a certain number of tasks.
7. Schedule quality time with your kids. It is easy to get lost in the pattern of working, home-schooling and then working some more, but set aside down time to spend with your kids where you can relax and have fun and get away from screens. My whole family has got involved with Joe Wicks’ PE classes which he now runs online 3 times a week, this helps them burn some pent-up energy and is a great way to start your day!
8. Look after the emotional health of your family. My family share the ‘best, middle and worst’ moments of our day over dinner. It’s a great way of checking-in with everyone’s well-being.
9. Then when the kids have gone to bed pour a glass of wine and give yourself a pat on the back, no matter how the day went. Take each day at a time. Celebrate the wins, accept the losses, then; EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT.
Finally, remember that life will return back to normal soon and your working day will be child-free once more. Sometime in the future we may well look back with a degree of fondness on the days of attending Zoom meetings in suit jackets and tracksuit bottoms and being present to eat dinner with the kids every night. Try to enjoy the positives.
If you have any tips or tricks you can share on juggling working from home and home schooling please leave a comment!