The New Work-Home Life Balance
You used to pride yourself on accomplishing the impossible – a good work/home life balance. You used your commute to and from work to successfully transition yourself from home life to work life, you stayed focused at work and focused solely on family at home, you even scheduled in the occasional school play into your work schedule so that you showed support for your children during the work day. Bravo! You did it! But now….there is a new impossible.
Working at home during the COVID-19 social isolation isn’t simply working from home. This is working from home while you homeschool children who are not in the habit of homeschooling. Your children are used to their teacher being present, your boss is used to you being present, and there is only so much of you to go around. It is easy to feel that your limit of patience has been reached…by 9am.
Here are some tips that can help restore some control in the new normal:
Create a schedule, but don’t be rigid on everything.
At the office meeting times are sacred but the rest of your work can be done based on your priorities and attention span. Run the house the same way. Create a schedule for yourself and your children’s day. Stagger them so that you can be present for short intervals for your child for school, but that they are entertained or working independently during your meeting times. Let them know that both your meeting times and their virtual class times are sacred – cannot be moved, missed or interrupted – but the other items on the schedule can be moved around depending on the day and both of your workload. If your child is old enough, let them help map out their schedule so they feel more empowered to stick to it. Kids like to feel heard and their teachers were used to that, let them have some input on how they approach their school day. Even a small choice of choosing their lunch or where to store their pencils helps them feel important.
Take breaks, with and without your children, and stop for the family dinner.
You used to have your commute to yourself, now your commute is upstairs. If you need that time to clear your mind, plan a walk at the beginning and end of the day. The whole family may get a kick out of circling the block (or house) 3 times every morning after breakfast before settling in to work/school, or you may be able to leave the kids at the breakfast table while you walk yourself. Your 3pm stretch and coworker chat by the water cooler can now be a 20 video break (exercise, mediation, video chat with friend, etc). We still need socialization of some kind even though we are in social isolation. We still need a mental beginning and end of our workday even though we are not changing venues.
Vocalize to your coworkers when you need flexibility.
You may not be able to be fully present during the work day if your children are too young to be independent for any period of time. Or you may only have one computer and there are times when it is needed for schoolwork. Explain the situation and give a solution. Your new work hours may center around nap-time and you may need to move your own independent work to after bed time. Ask if it is possible to move essential meetings to a time when your child is napping or a spouse can watch them (alternating work schedules throughout the day with your spouse can help both of you concentrate for long stretches of time). Be honest if a deadline given does not give you enough actual time to complete the task due to computer access. Ask if end of day (as in by midnight) is an OK deadline vs. end of business day (6pm). There is a new normal, hopefully your company will be able to work with you as long as your meeting time requests stay within working hours and you keep the rest of your team members in mind when scheduling (everyone is having a tougher time now).
Set “interruption” rules for your kids.
Let them know that if you are on the computer they can’t just run up to you and start talking. You need an “excuse me” or a tap on the shoulder so you can finish your work before talking. A great visual tool that can help with this is leaving red, yellow and green pieces of construction paper by your workspace. If the green paper is out your kids can feel free to come talk to you, if yellow is out they need to use caution and tap your shoulder first before talking, and red being out means “only talk to me if it is an emergency.”
Be OK with bad days and try to be patient.
Remember how long it took you to strike a good work/home life balance in the first place. Give yourself some leeway. Redo schedules, find new routines, bite the bullet and request a loaner computer, do not beat yourself up if things don’t go your way the first, second or third time.
You’ve done this before, and you can do it again. Both you and your children have to adjust to each other as “coworkers” in your day. Use the same guidelines you used when you first coined your balance – respect home-time and work-time – only now they are more interspersed in intervals vs the full work-days of the past.