The WfH parenting quick guide for employees and managers

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May 14, 2020
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May 20, 2020

Remember “Bring your Kid to the Office” day? In the USA, it used to be once a year and it was a great experience for kids and parents to connect and learn more about each other. Now, that once a year occasion has turned into a special kind of Groundhog Day.

Kids became a permanent feature in businesses all around the world as a background (and sometimes front and center) presence in home office life.  With schools still closed in many locations, workers must keep to their professional obligations simultaneously with the role of parents, teachers, and playmates.

It’s been hard on kids too, with their hyperactive personalities stuck inside the house, away from their friends. Don’t be surprised if they miss school even more than you miss your workplace and colleagues.

What may have felt like an impromptu vacation at first became a new, complex routine, that might last longer than we expected. Here are some ideas to improve it.

Be realistic

We apologize for breaking it this way, but you are not going to do everything right. And that is OK.

Now you can relax.

Kids are going to be bored, they will get you sidetracked and interrupt your work. You will not be able to play with them all day or help them out with their schooling as much as you would like because there’s a job to be done. A job you took to pay for all the stuff that keeps your children safe and happy: a home, food, clothes, toys, etc.

Establish priorities, build a schedule, and a routine around them. Focus on what is vital for your work, for your kid’s learning and living conditions. Keep in mind: you are in control of the situation as much as they are.

Time management

Working from home has a lot of perks. One of them is the end of commuting. Keep to your old schedule and use that extra time to get things done. Kids can stay in bed while you respond to emails and set a plan for the day. Being the first to get to work will show your commitment to your employer. Then you can kickstart your children’s day, getting breakfast ready for them, and dressing them up for virtual school or any other mandatory activities.

Meals take up a lot of time, so prepare them in advance. Draw a meal plan, it will make it easier to manage your shopping, keep a healthier diet, and your meals interesting, avoiding food boredom.

Share your schedule with your manager and your team so they know when you are available for them. If you have deadlines, they must be met or renegotiated. 

Block out specific times in the week for uninterrupted work, for home life, for yourself. Accept the unexpected too. Delays happen, plans change, kids get sick or pull off tantrums.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but with good time and expectations management, it will get a lot easier.

Sync with your partner

Keep your partner in the loop of your job’s demands. If you have important meetings scheduled for that day or a deadline you cannot miss, let them know. See how both your agendas can be combined so neither parenting nor work gets behind. The secret for the success of any relationship is good communication.

If you’re a single parent, communication is also key. Let your boss and colleagues know your offspring is a part of your office life now and that meetings will sometimes have a new associate, with pressing needs and quirky habits. Interruptions are to be expected so let us all make the most of it. Those who have children will understand, those who don’t will have a special glimpse of life with kids.

Sync with your kids

Children had their routines turned upside down, but they can adapt quite quickly to new circumstances. Set a schedule for them. If they still have classes to attend, work with that. Set your work breaks to match their school breaks and spend a bit of time with them, check on how they’re doing.

Sleeping time can be a great opportunity. Get things done in the early morning hours while they’re still slumbering or use naps to have some full focus time. Their naps, not yours.

If they’re old enough, encourage them to do simple tasks around the house. It will keep them busy and motivated to take responsibility for themselves while contributing for household life.

Teach them when they can or cannot burst into your home office asking for food or to complain about their siblings and when they must behave business-like. Make a game out of it: create a special sign or use an accessory so they know you are in work mode. Closed doors are effective only to a certain extent.

How to keep them busy

During the workday, it can be hard to keep kids busy. If schoolwork is done and there’s nothing for them to do, promote autonomous activities suited to their age. Don’t be idealistic and believe your kids will be spending their free time reading or practicing music on their own – though it would be amazing if they did. 

Screens seem to be OK, as long you are aware of the content. TV is entertaining and so can be YouTube but do some curation. Learning can be fun. Keep their brains active by using those media to expose children to subjects that matter to them: sharks, dinosaurs, outer space. There is a trove of good, educational, and fun content online waiting to be explored by thirsty young minds. 

Online games are also acceptable because that’s where their friends are. This generation grew up socializing online, so let them. They need that. Besides, if you spend the whole day looking at a screen how can you tell them not to?

Paper based activities like drawing or writing are stimulating and enhance their creativity. They also promote the habit of having time for themselves, away from the excessive stimuli of electronic devices. Create a box filled with materials they can turn into instant projects with minimal supervision required.

Sometimes all you have to do is leave them to their imagination.

Watch out for their emotions

Your attitude will reflect on your children. Stay positive, even if you don’t feel like it. If you are nervous, your kids will feel nervous too and emulate that behaviour.  Pay attention to the signs and know how to respond.

Being calm and positive will help everyone feel better and more functional. Do breathing exercises with your kids, even if it slides into a funny face or stare contest. Take care of your mental health because it will affect the mental health of your children.

For managers and workers with no kids

When supervising or working with remote colleagues with children in their charge, bring comprehension and support to the table.

If you have children of your own, you’ll probably be more sympathetic. Discuss and devise the best way to accommodate your employees to the current situation, set realistic expectations and work with them to keep stress to a minimum. It’s not easy but, with some help, work will not be affected. A parent is a committed employee who doesn’t shy from responsibility. Especially now.

Be nice, ask for their kids, how they are holding up. Trade domestic horror stories if you have some of your own. Let kids join your virtual meeting if they need some mommy or daddy time. There’s not much you can do about it and everybody wins. Which means, the kids win.

If you don’t have any kids, learn, and enjoy this insight to life with children. Your co-workers are juggling their jobs, parenting, schooling, and, if there’s more than one child, ensuring peacekeeping amongst siblings. You’ll see it’s a whole lot of work, but also a ton of fun.

Communicate often and adjust work demands to everyone’s availability. The situation is hard as it is, don’t make it worse by putting too much pressure on who has already too much on their plate.

You know the saying: it takes a village to raise a child. Your small village of co-workers has a new project now.

Don’t forget the why

You are a parent and a professional. Be present in both roles, communicate with everyone involved, from your boss to your partner. To your kids.

You are working to keep your children safe, healthy, and happy so take care of yourself too. Get as much rest as possible, enjoy the trivial things. Share your work life with them. Your children are now your new office mates and the best thing that ever happened to you. Kids are amazing and their brains are wired to look at the world with eager, fresh eyes. There’s a lot we can take from their perspective. If there’s a reason why we’re doing this, it’s them.