Civil servant Vanessa shares her five top tips for working from home with children during the coronavirus pandemic.
My partner and I live in a small house in some woodland with our four-month-old daughter Eliza. My partner is currently on shared parental leave and with everyone at home it is all getting a bit cramped.
Having read many blogs and articles online about how to work from home and what to do with the kids, with often conflicting advice, I’ve tested some and listed the top things that worked for me.
1. To schedule or not to schedule?
Firstly, the kids. We haven’t got the little one on any kind of schedule yet, but my partner has offered to take care of her seven-year-old niece during school closures. Should she be following a school-type schedule?
I take my hat off to any parent that has their kids on a lesson plan. It is all far too exciting and new for sitting down at worksheets. Possibly, as time goes on, a bit of structure may help but we’ve found loosely following school hours works for us. This means getting dressed at the usual (OK, maybe slightly later) time, lunch at the usual time and bedtime definitely the same. Additionally, we’ve had some goals like worksheets, outside play and arts and crafts. It's more intense than school as it's one to one, so despite looking to add more structure we’re never going to try and replicate school.
For the adults, with or without kids, PJ days are all well and good, but getting dressed can do wonders for productivity. Have a clear work space, set lunch time and end the work day at the usual time.
However, if you’re with kids, more breaks are inevitable, so don’t get too stressed about walking away from your laptop. I find working while also trying to entertain only ends in more stress.
Talk to your line manager about your situation and find what will work best. It could be that you’re doing some work after they’ve gone to bed. As long as your work permits and your mental health isn’t suffering, working flexibly could be a good solution.
2. Do not listen to parent guilt
Despite being in the fortunate situation of having my partner off work, it is still hard for two of us to entertain kids 24/7. If there is an activity your child is happy to do on their own, like watching TV, while you get work done, you do not need to justify that to anyone. Afterwards, you can always get them to review a film they've been watching or act out a short scene.
Also, headphones: for most of us, our minds are not as conditioned to work at home so, working or not, you will need your own space. Don’t feel guilty working with headphones on while the kids are occupied. Listen to music, or an audiobook, which helps stop me getting distracted.
Finally, the house is likely to be a mess with the kids home more, but now is not the time to worry. Even without the daily commute, you’re likely to be more tired and have less time.
3. Get the kids involved
Just because you’re working doesn’t mean that they have to have a separate life during work hours. Get them to help decorate your home office with drawings and paintings – I am running out of wall space for drawings, but it has been a great way to talk about my office and establish a work zone. You can also get them to make their own space, a blanket fort, say, or a seat they can work or relax in.
To help everyone establish work and non-work times, have your lunches together; do some morning yoga; or take a walk after work. Even though Eliza is only four months old, she has been getting cabin fever. Fresh air and a change of scenery is keeping us sane. Just going out in the garden can be helpful.
4. Keep in touch with other adults!
Everyone says this, but it is much easier said than done. My department’s parent support network has a great buddy scheme where you can chat with other parents, share tips or have a virtual coffee! My buddy has put a regular meeting in our calendar and we chat over hangouts whenever we need to.
Skype at meal times! It is going to be tricky for parents and little ones if they can’t see their extended family. We’re having family skypes at meal times. You might be sick of virtual meetings right now, but Sunday lunch with a laptop at the dinner table can help keep everyone connected.
5. Enjoy it!
It's extra time to have with your kids. You might be anxious, they might be anxious, so have lots of cuddles, play lots of games, read them your favourite books, teach them your favourite recipes, make a mess. Whatever makes you happy and calm, try and make some time to share it with them.
Here are just some of the free resources I’ve found online:
BBC bitesize has great learning resources tailored to your child’s current level