Not home alone? Many workplaces are responding to the recent COVID-19 virus by cancelling events and requiring employees to work remotely. This usually means working from home and, for many parents, this coincides with daycares and schools sending children home for distance learning, or breaks lasting days or weeks.
Parents accustomed to a much higher degree of separation of childcare and work may be suddenly faced with multiple challenges at once. Even the most tech-enabled parents may have to learn to work productively and full time in the home environment. Pop-up home offices might require scaling- up to include partners in similar situations and the care and distance learning needs of any young children who are also suddenly telecommuting. Those who are not well must also navigate an evolving healthcare situation.
API has always been a remote workplace predominantly staffed by parents with young children at home. Though every family will have different needs and resources, we can share some of the tips we’ve used over the years. What are some of your best tips? What have you learned? Share your tips and stories!
First Order Tactics
- Childcare. Form a cooperative with neighbors, family, friends and organize care and work. These arrangements can provide the most chunks of focused time.
- Engage a mother’s helper or other sitter to come for a few hours and help with childcare or chores.
- Personal productivity tools can be helpful. Productivity has been a booming industry in recent years so you probably have your own tools in place. Import and adapt these to the home office, but recognize that you’ll most likely need to try new things too. The Eisenhower matrix and 7 Habits for Highly Effective People are time-tested and broad enough to help you focus on what’s most important and in the right order. We’ve definitely given up notions of perfecting either.
- Think of time in chunks. Ninety minute chunks are optimal according to the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC) that runs in 90 minute cycles.
Daily Tactics: doubling up as employee, office manager + CEO of Homefront Inc. (take that Elon Musk)
- Get up earlier than others. Stretch, exercise, make and drink your coffee, get a bite to eat and have some quiet planning time before the kids are up and things start popping.
- Get to sleep earlier. First, it’s healthy, second, it sets a good example for the children. Third, if getting up earlier helps you get a good start to the day, you’ll need to go to bed earlier to get enough rest to get up early. And sleep is healthy.
- Plan some daily outdoor play time with the kids. And join them. These are great work breaks for everyone, especially since much of your time will be online and in possibly stationary. You might find that outdoor time inspires new bursts of creative and energetic work. Consider “walking meetings” if possible. Exercise is brain food and vitamin D is a recommended daily vitamin.
- Plan your lunches. If your children are old enough, get them to help with menu planning and even making lunch and snacks. This is helpful work they can be proud of.
- That to do list? Pick three items, maybe. Focus on the most urgent and important. See also the Eisenhower matrix. Recognizing that your standards will need to flex a bit is critical. Limiting office distractions is one thing, learning to focus at home with responsibility for young children is another. Attention shifting decreases productivity, but identifying the challenges gives you the ability to tap into your creativity to navigate new situations on terms that actually work for you.
- Parallel map your activities with the kids. Teachers and caregivers would ordinarily do this for the kids, but now you’re the one who has to mind their daily structure as well as your own. Finding a way to synchronize your time isn’t always possible, but it’s a good place to start. Schedule your most urgent things and match that with the activities that are likely to keep kids happily occupied during these most intensive work chunks.
- Plan breaks in your day as natural check-in points or activity transitions. Work in breaks to go outside, go for walks, let them feed you lunch as if in a restaurant, let them treat you to a spa that they’ve created after work. “Pay them back” with storytime or other favorite activities.
- Have supplies on hand and in accessible places. Don’t have supplies? Improvise with what you DO have. Let your children guide you to things that might be interesting that you never thought of. You still have to set the parameters and make sure it’s safe, but don’t be afraid to rely on or take inspiration from their natural creativity. (You can even reverse engineer creative projects by making up fun things to do with the items you already have on hand.) There are tons of inspiring and easy resources and ideas online.
- Accept that mess will happen and relax your standards. Make it a goal that the kids (slowly) learn and make progress to incorporate putting things away as a part of their work and play – “done” is when it’s put away and the space returned to original use (except for longer-term projects). Use imaginative and humorous (silly) ways to notice and appreciate every small thing they do in this regard to encourage more of it. “The Queen of the Realm of Playdoh grants a wand tap in appreciation for Max collecting every tiny bit back into its proper rainbow house leaving not a drop for the gobbler to gobble. Ann receives a wand wave for collecting all of the Realm’s tea cups so the gobber will move on without a tea cup to steal.”
- Set up activities that are age-appropriate and the kids can manage and help each other with. Can activities be no-cook food? What if they spend the morning making lunch and snacks and helping with dinner prep? (helpfulness and pride of project). Cleaning can be fun with swiffers, brooms, dusting cloths.
- Set up for imaginative play. Sheets, cushions, forts can be imaginative play and can be sets for grand theaters and performances of song, dance and drama. New stories and tales. Homemade books. Ask them to create, rehearse and perform a show for the family on Friday night. Record it and send it to friends and family. Encourage friends to do and share too.
Thank you, Art Yuen, for putting this together for families! What tips do you have for families? Please share in the comments.