Balancing working from home with looking after children is a challenge during normal times, let alone in times like this. In this article the Women's Activities Portfolio have shared some ideas to help all home workers and parents create an approach that works for you and the family.

Working from home

Working from home used to be a flexible form of working that an employee would agree on with their employer. In the last few weeks, most European governments have asked people to avoid all non-essential travel and to work from home where possible to help curb the outbreak. If you are used to working from home, then a few adjustments need to be made.

If you are new to working from home here are some tips and principles to follow which will help you manage being in the home environment for work and home life:

  • Daily routine: try to maintain your morning routine – take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast and even take a walk outside as if you were commuting to work.
  • Dedicated work zone: this will be where you will ‘go to work’ every day and will help distinguish from home space. This is crucial to your productivity and focus. Try and set yourself up where you can avoid distractions and get some natural light.
  • Ergonomics and posture: as best as possible use a comfortable chair that will support your posture and a table to set your laptop on.
  • Take breaks: it’s recommended to work for 45mins and then take a break; practice some mindfulness, do some housework, or talk to someone else.
  • Get moving: have walking skype/telephone meetings, schedule some time for exercise and yoga
  • Switch off from/limit news, social media and phone distractions; useful apps include Screentime for Apple and Offtime for Androids phones.
  • Practice self-care: eat well, drink water and make time for yourself.
  • Communication is key: check in with your team members regularly, schedule virtual coffee breaks and remember everyone is experiencing this disruption in different ways.
  • Connect through technology: try to get used to putting your camera on (and be aware of what’s going on in the background). Seeing colleagues on screen helps us to feel more connected to each other.

Working from home and looking after children

Now we add school closures to the home working environment. Some of you may have experienced the challenge of working from home and having your child/children home due to illness or school holidays. When it’s a one off, or holiday time, we might have a different approach to help us get through the day! As we are likely to be going through this in the long term and whilst we have term time work being set by teachers, there are some approaches we can adopt that will give structure to our children’s lives and help us balance working and family time. Before we get into this, there are some things to keep in mind: go easy on yourself and the family, be flexible, be forgiving when things don’t work out the way you planned. When things do get a bit tough, take some time out and do something that will help you reset.

So what can you do to balance working from home with children at home as well?

  • Communicate: speak to your manager/ team about balancing childcare with work requirements; you may find working flexibly or reducing hours is how you will be able to manage the load.
  • Work policies: ask your manager for the policy on flexible working.
  • Work out your schedules: discuss your work patterns with partners/family members. Each day or each week review your essential meetings and work deliverables and plan together the times you each need to be work focused and who can be children focused. You could try working in 2 hour shifts for example.
  • Be honest about what you can achieve running a home and delivering on work is not easy and some things will slip: getting through the priorities is often enough.
  • Set ground rules with children not to disturb you during calls: use a door sign so that children know you are busy.
  • Give children clarity on how long calls are likely to take – they will want your attention and need to know when they have time with you.
  • Read through the work sent home by the school and understand what needs to be done so you can be prepared to help your children. Look up how many hours is realistic for your child according to their age – AKEB provide more information on routines and schedules on headstart
  • Establish a family routine: involve your children in creating a daily and weekly timetable. This can be a fun activity for them and the family as a whole. You might also find it useful to create family rules and family values to help you all work together, support each other and play together whilst confined. Remember, set small specific goals or schedule a small number of activities and then add things in where you feel the need. That way, anything extra achieved is a win! No two days are going to work the same!
  • Maintain family dinner time to keep connected and use this as an opportunity to reflect on the day and discuss school work.
  • Use technology to your advantage! There are a range of child friendly documentaries on Netflix including BBC Earth series with David Attenborough, or animated stories on Amazon Prime such as ‘Room on the Broom’, TedEd talks for young children and Audible have announced that all their children’s audio books will be free to listen to.
  • Gather resources: keep track of what is being shared online and via WhatsApp that will help keep the children occupied when they get bored or you need to do extra work. See headstart forchannels and resources
  • Switch off: take time away from work and schedule time to be with the children as well as some alone time where possible.
  • Exercise with the kids! Joe Wicks is running a daily PE workout at 9am available online.

Now, more than ever, maintaining a work-life balance will be key to a healthy lifestyle and our wellbeing. It will also contribute to enjoying family life and bringing everyone together to get through this disruptive time. Focus on the positives, don’t blame yourself if work doesn’t get done for a day or if the TV is on for longer than intended. These are extraordinary times and life won’t be perfect. “Everybody makes mistakes. Never regret them, correct them. There’s no such thing as a perfect world or a perfect life.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, Ogden lecture, Brown University 2014

If you are finding life in Coronavirus lockdown difficult and want someone to speak to, please contact the CST on 02081910911 for the United Kingdom. International numbers can be found by clicking here