Working from home due to the health crisis we are facing became the only option for many employees. We will probably, even after the reduction of safety measures, continue to work remotely. Up until a while ago, remote work for most people was not an option; therefore, they found themselves unprepared in a completely new situation overnight.
For some people, this way of working is hugely convenient, enabling them to organize the time according to their preferred schedule, without wasting time commuting, needless office distractions, lengthy meetings etc.
On the other hand, for some, working from home can be demanding and stressful. Some people like their office routine, regular face-to-face communication, a clear boundary between professional and private life, which is now getting blurred. A variety of personal differences bring diverse patterns of engagement and productivity.
Parents, and especially single parents, with toddlers and preschoolers who can’t understand why mommy and daddy have to work instead of playing with them, have it especially hard. Jobs, with their deadlines and requirements on one side, and children with the constant need for parental care and attention on the other, make life quite complicated. Everyone who went through that experience knows what I am talking about. Even if you are well organized and have kids that know how to entertain themselves, you will, from time to time, hear a “mom I need you!” or “dad, watch this!”.
There is a professional term for such a situation – work-family conflict. How can we deal with it during these uncommon circumstances? Till recently, remote work was a benefit we were aspiring for, which turned out overnight reality. Now we live that dream but somewhat unprepared. Under normal circumstances, employers offering flexible working invest in educating their employees about efficient strategies for working from home. Also, a tiny share of jobs offers full-time remote work. Usually, it consists of occasional work from a different location, which differs significantly from our situation nowadays. The current conditions are atypical, looking for the out of the box thinking.
On today’s topic, I will focus on parents with young children who, I believe, have it the hardest. How can they approach this situation and find the support they need? In three key things – time, partnership, and workspace.
1. Time management and the need for adjustment to the usual work rhythm has been a hot topic these days. The typical work dynamic can work for families with older kids or the ones lucky enough to live with grandparents. But what about the ones who do not have support like that? In that case, we can talk about the work-life rhythm, which follows the daily dynamic of the family’s needs.
Follow the daily routine of your family’s needs and arrange your work around it.
In reality, it means that the parent will work in the morning, afternoon or the evening when the kids fall asleep, the only time they can have complete peace. That does not mean they will not take a call, or sometimes video chat with the child in their lap, but for more complex assignments, they will have to adjust to their children’s needs.
2. Partner division of family chores is an essential part of the work-life puzzle, which is more important than ever these days. We all know that most of the time, women do most of the household chores and childcare. During these difficult days, the ratio has not changed. Moreover, from what I hear, it is even worse. For parents to be responsible in both – their parental and professional role – it is necessary to make a home schedule, managing time in the same manner as they would with their colleagues at work – equally, like partners. One parent works at one time, while the other takes care of the house and kids, and vice versa. That is something we call equal opportunities or 50:50 partnership.
To be a loving parent and a successful professional, partners have to share the chores.
In our family, we managed to set the rules precisely like that. It makes all the difference if one person always makes the lunch or we divide the responsibilities. Today, for example, we made lunch together, because it was faster – my part of the job was preparing fish, while my husband was making chard and potatoes, while our boys were setting the table. That way, everybody participated, and still managed to have time for school/job obligations.
To make it approachable and fun to kids, the MAMFORCE team made a family chore wheel.
3. Workspace is also an essential part of working remotely. The differences in size and organization of living space affect the efficiency of work. We need peace to do the job. In a spacious apartment it is possible to isolate, but how easy is that in a smaller one? Nevertheless, even in a big house, with small children, it is hard to distance as long as they are aware of mom’s or dad’s presence. I heard a lot of stories from parents, such as isolating themselves in a separate room without leaving it the whole time, so the kids think they are not home. Working in an isolated place is a good strategy, but only if you have somebody to watch the kids.
Try to imagine that your kids are just a younger member of your team, giving them assignments according to their age.
My personal experience from the period when our kids were small is that they wanted to be with us, so the living room was filled with toys while their room served mainly as the sleeping room. Kids need the feeling of engagement; they are curious; they want to know what mom and dad are doing. Therefore, it is good to have a shared work desk, with kids’ toys and crayons. Or a little desk next to the big one, just for them.
Next thing you could do is engage your children by treating them as work colleagues and giving them fun assignments. Try to imagine they are members of your team, who get tasks the same as the real teammates. It is a good management exercise for the ones who have that kind of responsibility or are preparing for it. Parenting is one of the advantages in the development of leadership skills, and these are the ideal conditions for practicing those skills.
Except for these three critical keys in the organization of work and life, while working from home with kids, the crucial is the understanding and empathy of employers and colleagues, as well as flexibility for understanding different needs. Accepting diversity is something we continuously promote through MAMFORCE standard, along with an understanding of different work-life rhythms.
There are not many people with the perfect work conditions at home, the reason more to respect their rhythms and be flexible with deadlines. That kind of support and care will pay off with employee loyalty which is essential for a productive business.
Dianna K. Deskovic