Covid-19 and New Zealand’s rise to Alert Level 4 has meant a lot of households needing to balance working from home while looking after young children.
Sean Barker here at the Diversity Agenda, is in that situation with both himself and wife Natasha needing to work while being indoors with their two daughters, Skye and Lily, aged five and two.
Sean shares some tips to try and ease the stress felt by working parents across the country.
Share the care
With us both employed, we have our own workloads during this time so had to find a way to make this situation work. We share out the day through defined shifts in our home office (the bedroom on a hastily arranged desk), away from the children. We get 1.5 hours each shift, starting from 7.30am, and then when we’re with the kids we use that time to respond to emails, team chat messages, the more impromptu video meetings with a colleague, or crack on with quicker smaller tasks while the kids are entertaining themselves. This way of working in concentrated sprints actually is proving to be very productive as you plan ahead to know what you want to achieve during your time, while still being available for contact all day from your teammates.
And if you’re a single parent, you can still try adopting this technique by trying to schedule the more independent engaging activities for your child/children in intervals, to give you a chance to have some head down time with the laptop.
Communication is key
Check in with your manager to talk through the plan you think will work for your family, and make sure it also fits with what your employer needs. Now more than ever, we need flexibility on both sides and having lots of communication will really help. And don’t forget, this is also new territory for your employer so they will appreciate your input.
Try and have at least a rough plan of what’s happening for the kids each day, which you can then sync with your working shifts. For example, here’s a typical day for our girls:
6am – Rise and shine, play with toys, maybe a little bit of TV if it was a night were no one got out of their beds(!). 7am – Breakfast. 8am – Skype call to whānau in France and the UK. 8.30am – Get dressed and brush teeth. 9am – School time. Skye has school workbooks for Maths and English to complete, and then learn-to-read books 10.30am – Free play. 11am – Cooking. So far, we’ve made cupcakes, pizza, pasta and bread. 12pm – Lunchtime. 1pm – Walk around the block to spot bears in the window. 2pm – Cosmic Kids Yoga (Check it out on YouTube!). Lily normally naps during this so gives Skye some solo yoga time. 3pm – Free play AKA make the lounge messy or sometimes a movie on TV or gardening play. 4.30pm – Pack away time (if we’re lucky). 5pm – Dinner. 6pm – Bath. 6.45pm – Sit down on the couch to watch the daily story and song video on YouTube by New Zealand Kids artist Kath Bee. 7pm – Bedtime. And breath.
Think less about the working hours of the week, and more about what you need to achieve. The reality is, you’re unlikely to get exactly the same amount of working time at home in this Covid-19 situation as you would in the office. So, shift your mindset to give yourself defined tasks that need to get done for the week. Write a list, and then tick off as they get achieved and you may be surprised at how much you’re getting done at home – it’s easy to forget all the time in the office spent chatting to a colleague while you make a coffee, or on discussing that ‘quick question’ at your desk, or getting dragged into a meeting which you probably don’t need to be at.
The trap you can fall in at home is the inability to ‘step out of the office’. We all need breaks but when you’re working from home, especially with children, you can find yourself thinking about work non-stop. So, when you go and make yourself a coffee, leave the phone next to your laptop and avoid standing there checking your emails. And make sure you take a lunch break. We have an hour at midday each day where all four of us sit together to eat and chat.
You’re not alone
It will be tough. That, there is no denying. You’ll have days where it feels like you’ve got nothing done. And at times, you’ll wonder whether you’ve accidentally taken on a new career as referee in a heavyweight boxing match, as you’re constantly trying to untie your fighting children. Because being stuck inside is hard for the kids too. So, it’s important to know that you aren’t the only one find it tough. And there’s parents across New Zealand who also feel your pain. But, we will all get through it. Alone. Together.
And lastly, embrace the moment
As much as this is a troubling time, you can still try and make it special with your whānau – because when your kids are older, they will look back and recall that time you were all stuck inside together for weeks on end. So let’s not forget to make those memories fond ones.