The coronavirus pandemic is presenting all sorts of challenges - medically, financially, and socially.
But one huge challenge working parents are having to face is the reality of maintaining their jobs, alongside having the kids home from school.
With schools in the UK now closed until further notice, and many parents doing their jobs from home, huge numbers of people are now having to contend with spreadsheets, virtual meetings and deadlines – as well as homeschooling, home PE classes and staving off the kids’ boredom (if you want ideas of fun things to do with kids when you’re not working, we’ve got plenty of ideas).
It’s an incredibly tight balance, but there are ways of making it work for you as best you possibly can. We’ve spoken to parents and experts, who have shared their tips on how to work from home with kids and stay sane – and maybe, actually, get some work done…
How to work from home with kids
One vital thing about working from home during this time is realising that you don’t have to do everything.
Rebecca Lockwood, a mum of two and NLP trainer, who runs her own business, has been working from home with her children for years now. She explained that if you work with others, now is the time to ask for help. “If you have a team that you can delegate to then do. Now is the time to utilise your team’s strengths, and lean on them when you can.”
One of the most important things GoodtoKnow gleaned from our parents and experts, was the importance of not putting any pressure on the situation, if possible.
Natalie Costa, a former teacher, and founder of Power Thoughts, a coaching service for children said, “Lower your expectations – understand that what you perhaps set out to achieve for the day will look very different to what you were able to achieve prior too all the recent changes. Set yourself realistic goals when it come to their learning too…and my mantra here to try and adopt is “Keep it simple”.
“At present we are educating from home, vs ‘homeschooling’ – as that is choice. We are expected to work and educate our children, and we’re doing the vey best that we can. Celebrate the small wins and also remember to replenish your own energy too.”
Rebecca agreed, saying, “I was so adamant that I wouldn’t sit my kids in front of screens, but the truth is, when you need to get stuff done, you will do anything you can to occupy them, full stop. If you need to get something done and you are under deadlines, having the kids around can be a challenge.
“Release the need for things to be perfect – just get stuff done. That is the goal, getting stuff done. Be intentional each day on what the most important work tasks are and just focus on getting those achieved.”
Parenting expert at childcare.co.uk, Emma Bradley, who also has three children, agreed. She said, “No-one should be expecting to fully educate their children and still do all the work they would in a typical day in the office.”
How to work from home with toddlers or babies
Rebecca suggested that if you’ve got really little kiddos, who might normally be at nursery, or babies who won’t have been in any kind of schooling even before this began, the key to getting work done could be held within nap-time.
She suggested, “When my kids were babies this was an easy method. When they were really little, they couldn’t do much, and slept a lot, so working when they were sleeping was easy.
So really utilise nap times – if your little one sleeps for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, use that time for hardcore concentration, and try to schedule any virtual meetings during this time too.
Clare Evans, a productivity expert and time management coach, agreed that prioritising tasks is key. She told GoodtoKnow, “You won’t be able to have clear, uninterrupted time to work for as long as you want. There will be added demands on your time, especially with younger children around. Spend what limited work time you’re able to carve out, working on your top priorities. Be really focused and selective on only doing the tasks that will get you the greatest results.”
But, if you don’t get this chance, it may be a case of reorganising your day around bedtime. Rebecca said, “As they get older and need your attention it is a different game altogether. This may mean that you spend your day with them, or some of the day really being present with them, and then when they go to bed at night you begin working again.”
Maybe organise a discussion with your boss and explain that you might need to work different hours during this period, in order to work your schedule around your kids.
Emma Bradley also suggested, “Many babies are often happy in a wrap or carrier. This can free up some time where your hands are free to work. If feeding, you might be able to answer emails or make calls at the same time. It is all about multitasking at this stage.”
Okay, it might not be ideal. But navigating these very strange circumstances means new ways of working for everyone…
How to work from home with young children
For kids who are that little bit older, working during naps isn’t exactly an option. But there are ways to still get stuff done – by using the online resources you have to your advantage.
Natalie Costa suggests making the most of the brilliant technology we have to hand at the moment. She suggested, “If you have work to attend to, then having the children watch a documentary, or a Ted-Ed show (which has education talks for kids) is some thing they can do. Follow this with a fun project – drawing or even creating a presentation on what they have learned.
“I’d suggest David Attenborough documentaries (Blue Planet and Life are particularly popular), and for the little ones – Wild Tales on BBC, or Kids Education Online also have a few good ones to look at.”
They’ll be engrossed in the show, as well as learning about something really worthwhile – so it’s a perfect time to get stuck into work guilt-free.
Natalie also suggested setting up a designated workspace for yourself, right next to a similar set up for your children. She told GoodtoKnow, “The concept of having ‘work spaces together’ may not work for all parents, depending on the nature of their work, but if they’re able to work by sitting next to each other it can be turned into a game for your children.” After all, what little kids don’t want to go to work with mummy and daddy?
“But bare in mind that children’s attention spans are not that long, so it may be that they are focused on an activity for 20 minutes, and you may have to attend to your work in smaller sections.”
Emma Bradley also suggests taking advantage of your younger kids natural rhythms throughout the day, to create a routine that works for all of you.
“Children thrive on structure and order so work in chunks of time,” she said. “The mornings are often when young children are most productive, so set aside some time for some activities in the morning. Then after lunch pop on a film, and mum and dad can work on their laptops.”
Getting help with relatives is also still possible during these strange times. If you need a solid half an hour to work through something, why not pop the kids on FaceTime or Skype? Emma suggested, “Involve grandparents or aunties and uncles by using Facetime and asking them to read a story or talk to your child so that you can work. Everyone will appreciate this interaction too, as many grandparents are struggling with isolation as well.”
How to work from home with older children
If your kids are older, and so a bit more independent, now is the time to make the most of them wanting to do things their own way.
Emma explained, “Research informs us that teenagers are programmed to sleep later into the morning. Therefore, use this time to be flexible, and let them get up later, but still have some expectations – my son is getting up about 10.30. This gives me a few hours in the morning to work before he is up.”
“Have a conversation with teenagers and agree what they will achieve each day and then check in later that they have done it,” she continued. “They will need motivating, but you don’t want to get caught in an argument with them about work, as we are all trying to keep everything harmonious in the home.”
By checking in at the beginning of the day, you’ll have more time to yourself for work, while also ensuring that your kids are learning something during this time.
“Then, find some in the evenings to chat to your teenagers about what they have achieved that day. They are more likely to productive if they know their efforts are being seen,” Emma suggested.