Many of us are asking this question at the moment. As with all things, it depends on a whole range of different circumstances. Here are the things we have gleaned from talking to mums who have done it.
How do you work from home with children around you? It’s a question many people are asking now if they’re not too stressed and tired to do so. And it’s a pertinent one, given the updated guidance at the weekend which enables employees who cannot work due to childcare issues to ask their employer to be furloughed.
The short answer from all the mums we’ve interviewed over the years who have tried to do childcare around running their own businesses is that it is very, very difficult and there is not one way of doing it. You have to find what works for you based on your children – for instance, their ages, personalities and sibling dynamics – your home environment, whether you have any support in the form of a partner or other adult living with you or an understanding employer, what your job entails etc.
If you have babies, for instance, your ability to work will depend a lot on their sleep patterns. If they have long naps in the afternoon you can try and get all work involving things like calls or concentration done in that window. That involves very intensive working in those hours. If your work is entirely call-based and time sensitive that is much more challenging. If your baby does not sleep or only sleeps for short periods of unspecified length this clearly ratchets up the tension. If you are breastfeeding you can take calls with a feeding baby on your lap. You know your baby best.
If you have toddlers and young children who demand your attention, but don’t sleep it is very difficult to work. You can do activities with them and then put them in front of a DVD while you try to work nearby so you can keep an eye on them [no guilt]. Their safety is paramount. They may like to sit with you and do their own ‘work’. While your work will be interrupted you may be able to check emails, etc.
You could try to do any work involving concentration and planning in the hours when they are asleep, e.g, evenings. If your work is time-sensitive, this will be really, really difficult, if not impossible if there is no-one else around to share the childcare shifts. If you have lots of conference calls, make sure you are well acquainted with the mute button. Hopefully, most employers will be lenient about children drifting in and out of video calls.
Different children can understand different things at different ages so you may be able to explain in a way that they understand why they need to keep quiet at particular times [a sense that they are part of the team and that you need to make it to the next level…] and even develop some sort of frenetic signalling system.
Of course, you may have a combination of different-aged children and sibling rivalry to contend with. Make use of the exercise time you are allowed under lockdown and get out if you can. It can make the world of difference in terms of that nervous energy children have that leads to fights and general pandemonium. Regular breaks in the day can also help – lunch, exercise, activity, bedtime, etc – as much for you as for them. Getting to the next break can seem more achievable than getting to the end of the day. As children get older you can consider locking yourself in the bathroom to take important calls and other desperate measures.
Teenagers are a whole different ballgame. You can usually guarantee the morning is free for work, but you may find it difficult getting them motivated about doing anything at all during the day and you may find yourself worrying a lot about their long-term mental health…and your own. As with all things, venting to others in a similar situation and developing a very dark line in humour are the way forward.
Remember, above all, that getting through each day of homeworking/childcare is a mini miracle. Some days will be harder than others and you will get less done.
But bear in mind that, if you can do this, you must at least have earned the equivalent of a first class honours in child psychology and you can certainly take on the world – when it returns to being bigger than the size of your living room.