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Helen Swallow from Air Products gives her tips on how to manage the homeschooling-homeworking marathon.
The role of a working parent has changed a lot within the space of a few weeks. The days of sending my two children off to school each morning already seem like a distant memory, as we’ve quickly had to adapt to a new way of living, learning and working.
Like many parents, I’m the only adult in the house and am juggling work with homeschooling – a challenge even for those of us who regularly work from home. This additional pressure can be overwhelming, so I’ve put together my top tips for making working-parenting work.
It’s easy enough to be distracted when working from home, but adding children into the mix elevates this to another level. So, it’s important to try and stay focused to help you all get through each day. Looking at your daily diary or to-do list more than usual can be really beneficial, as it helps you plan your workload and keep on track. I also like to leave some gaps in my plan for each day to allow for distractions and alleviate the pressure.
Everyone is different, so find a routine that works best for your family and your work. Try switching the day around to give your children free time in the day and pick up academic work in the evening. Or negotiate extra flexibility with your boss to allow you to work some of your time in the evening or weekends to free up time during the day.
As we’ll be working from home for a while, it’s crucial to ensure your workspace is fit for purpose and as comfortable as possible to help prevent back, neck and shoulder problems. You also won’t be as productive if you’re uncomfortable or your screen is at the wrong height, so make this a priority. I’ve just bought a standing desk option that fits onto a kitchen work surface, which has really helped me. Once you’ve finished work for the day, tidy everything away; this will help you to switch off and encourage you to not catch up on emails.
Make sure you build time into your diary to connect with colleagues. Now the majority of us are working from home, we’ve lost the time we used to spend having a quick chat while making a cup of tea or walking to a meeting room, but we still need to make time for this. These informal chats and office banter help to maintain good relationships and create the opportunity to talk about things outside work.
I find that people are more focused during video conferences than phone calls, as it’s more obvious if they’re not listening or doing something else while in the meeting. It’s also lovely to actually see your colleagues, so encourage them to turn their cameras on.
Similarly, schedule time to go outdoors – your mental health has never been more important, so you need to ensure you’re looking after yourself. Take some time away from your desk to go for a walk (making sure you adhere to the current government guidance on exercise) or play football in your garden with the kids during your lunch break to switch off and get some much-needed fresh air.
Trust is such an important part of remote working – it could also be a reason why many employers haven’t adopted it at a greater level until now, as they’ve been unsure about how to manage their teams remotely. Trusting your team to complete their work will help improve staff morale, which is particularly important at the moment. Knowing your team are working hard will also help you relax.
This isn’t a normal situation, so try not to worry about how much screen time your children are having in order to help you get work done. It may still be via a screen, but you can help ease the guilt by allowing them to watch educational programmes, such as a David Attenborough documentary or access learning resources on BBC Bitesize.
Similarly, our children communicate with their friends via video – they don’t talk on the phone like we did when we were kids, which is why seeing their friends virtually is so important at this time. My son attends his usual Cubs group via a video meeting app, which means he still keeps his routine of seeing his friends on a particular day. This routine is invaluable and technology can really play an important role in continuity – and give you a little break!
Once this crisis is over and life has returned to normal, I hope the flexibility barriers will have been broken down and we’ll see more of it in the future. This situation has truly tested working from home and made more people recognise that it can work.
*Helen Swallow [pictured above] is Interim Talent Acquisition Lead at Air Products.