Working from home has become 'the new normal' for some, and for parents this can be a daunting and difficult prospect. With school closures in place, that means children are also at home. Add to this a need to maintain a work-life balance and high productivity levels simultaneously, and you've got yourself a rather problematic cocktail.
However, there are some things you can do to try and maintain some sense of normality.
Have a routine
Writing in a Harvard Business Review article
, Avni Patel Thompson, founder and CEO of Modern Village, a scheduling software company, recommends trying to adhere to a 'normal' working day structure. "Beyond the benefits of familiarity, maintaining a regular schedule will give you firm guideposts for building your work and childcare schedules," she writes.
She recounts the experience of a family that Modern Village works with. The children's daily routine before Covid-19 included breakfast at 8.15am, followed by a day of activities with the nanny, then dinner at 5pm before the parents came home. In the evening the children read books and played before bedtime between 7.30pm and 8pm. In the current climate, Thompson advises that the family stick to this routine where they can – whether they still have a nanny or not. "They should try to keep the meals, blocks of activity, and outdoor time. You'll be creating the actual schedules ... but the key first is identifying the foundation based on what you already know," she writes.
In an Independent article
, writer Sarah Young agrees that structure and routine are important. However, she quotes parenting blogger Sergei Urban, who says that there is no need for the schedule to be too sophisticated. "Just make sure you are adding plenty of free play and reading time. If you have a garden, take advantage of that and spend at least one hour there a day," Urban says. "Remember we need to be isolated from other people, but generally being outdoors is very beneficial."
When creating a routine or schedule, try to make it realistic. Young quotes author and parenting vlogger Louise Pentland, who says: "Set small specific goals and anything extra you do is a massive win ... It's worth researching what the right amount of time your children should be studying a day is – I discovered that [my child] Darcy should only be doing one to two hours of actual 'work' a day, and the rest of the time can be spent learning through play."
Communication is key
Emma Conway, a parenting blogger quoted in Young's article, suggests that if you live in a two-parent household, you could discuss your working schedules with each other and figure out how you will manage this in tandem with looking after the children. She says, "At the start of each week, we mark out hours we need to be at a computer for conference calls/meetings and see if the other one can be with the children."
Communicating with your employer is also crucial in these times. In an article for Fast Company,
Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a job site dedicated to flexible and remote working roles, urges parents to "communicate with [their] employer that [they've] got kids at home and that [they] can't guarantee every conversation will be interruption-free". She also says that when you're talking to anyone, whether they are inside or outside of your company, you should give them a heads-up about children, in case of interruption.
In Young's article, parenting blogger Conway also advises to be honest: "Once you have established a schedule that works, don't be afraid to discuss it with your boss and let them know that you are keen to find a way for this to work for both of you. I am lucky enough to be able to manage my workload. So I can work evenings or early mornings if needs be. [My partner] Stephen, however, will have to work a standard 8am–5pm but has already forewarned his employer that at times he may have to work evenings to catch up. Thankfully they were fine with this."
According to UK government guidance
, you can ask your employer to furlough you if you can't work due to childcare issues. It reads: "If you are unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus (Covid-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing ... then you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough."
Capitalise on nap time
If your children take a nap during the day, these periods could be productive working times. In a Parents article
, writer Brooke Lea Foster quotes mother of two Erin O'Donnell, who schedules work-related phone calls during nap time. If your child isn't tired, you could try having 'quiet time' instead. For example, O'Donnell will put her 20-month-old son in his cot with some books and close the door. She says: "I can usually get in 20 minutes of work before he grows restless."
Take advantage of technology
Traditional toys, activities and books are good ways to pass the time for children. However, as we live in an increasingly connected world, now could be a good time to harness those advancements.
Young writes: "With children now at home during what was once the traditional working and school week, parents are expected to become part professional entertainers and teachers, as well as fulfilling their work commitments." While Netflix can keep your children busy for a while, there are plenty of educational tech tools parents can utilise.
Young quotes parenting influencers Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson who have been taking advantage of the internet for educational purposes for their children. "We've found TED-Ed
brilliant. Small educational TED Talks for kids that they can watch while you work," they say. "We've also found Reading Eggs
brilliant for home-schooling. They just work through it themselves learning to read and it alleviates any parental screen time guilt."
Avni Patel Thompson recommends setting up virtual playdates for your children. "Choose [your preferred platform] and then send invites to your kids' friends' parents. For the playdate itself, have a station set up in your house with a tablet, laptop, or [portal] ready to go. During the playdate, it can be as simple as the kids catching up and colouring together or one of the parents leading an activity or reading books."
Thompson also advises leaning on other parents by creating 'parent pods'. She says, "Find a group of three to four other families you're close with and create a shared pool of resources, whether it's meal plans, activity schedules, or lesson plans."
Put perfectionism on hold
Being a parent at this time is incredibly difficult. Be kind to yourself. Don't set unrealistic goals for you or your children – just getting through the day is an achievement.
In a World Economic Forum article
, Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring, co-authors of Parents who lead
, write that some parents hold themselves to high standards of performance at work and in the home, and argue that this is "an opportunity to practise loosening your grip on these expectations". They continue: "Maybe your children get a little more screen time than usual. Maybe your house is a mess behind you on camera during a video call. Maybe you rethink your expectations of the people who report to you. Look at this as a chance to re-evaluate what really matters and to let go of over-performing in less important areas."
What are your top tips for getting through a working day as a parent at home? Leave your comments below.
Seen a blog, news story or discussion online that you think might interest CISI members? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.