Working from Home with Children at Home\
In the past, most of us have been familiar with working from home and have had little to no trouble making it effective. Along comes 2020 — the new year, bringing with it new challenges. Working parents, especially, have been thrown a curveball with Covid-19’s threat looming high above our heads. With “shelter-in-place,” a majority of workplaces and schools have either shifted to remote operations or complete closures. School closures in the wake of the pandemic have left parents grappling with working from home while balancing child-rearing, house-work, and work-work, with hardly any third party on which to rely, with safety top of mind.
There have been quite a few attempts with writing the perfect piece of advice that will help folks figure a good workaround for this situation. Some advice that I found useful included following a set schedule that I worked on with my four-year-old, and powering through his naptime of 1.5 -2 hours for focussed work (like writing this article). Adding to this, alternating screen time with Khan Academy Kids Early Learning sessions has helped us make it through Week 2 and, importantly, safely so.
That being said, every family, every kid, and every family situation differs significantly. No solution offering a one-size-fits-all model will work every time. Parents in Tech Alliance tapped four parents to give us some insight into their unique situations, how they’re managing, and share any advice they’d have for the rest of us. Their responses are shared below:
Alison Crawford, Head of Partnerships and Communities @Uber
“The biggest challenge for me is that normally when I’m home, I am 100% committed to my daughter and family, and not working. I usually go into my office or travel at least two weeks per month, so being home has been a challenge when it comes to getting my daughter to understand that I’m actually working and not free for playtime.
“I am barely managing. The schedule we follow usually involves starting our day as if everything is normal, and then my husband and I tag-team homeschooling duties while balancing our work calls. My hours haven’t shifted drastically, but I’m now working longer hours since there’s more to take care of at home.
“San Francisco has mandated a ‘shelter in place’ order, so I have asked my house-cleaner and nanny to stop coming so they can be safe at home — but we continue to pay them.”
- Communicate and adjust work expectations
“Be open with your manager on workload. Don’t be afraid to cancel or move calls and delay projects. The biggest priorities right now are keeping everyone home, healthy, fed, and sane.”
Matt Burke, Administrative Business Partner @ Stripe
“I think having both my wife and I, in similar administrative roles at two different companies who are at two different stages of response to this whole situation is a bit unique to us. There’s for sure things we each learn from each other, but trying to ensure our companies’ trains are running on schedule in the face of a global pandemic, all while trying to make sure our kids are safe, sane, and healthy, has been a learning experience, to say the least.”
We’ve just been relying on over-communicating, to be honest — each night we look at the next day’s schedule (or two days in advance if we can make it happen) so that we can avoid the overlapping Zoom meetings, and try to figure out which sessions can turn into phone calls for a multi-tasking walk around the neighborhood with one of the kids.”
Matt’s Tips :
2. Have Gratitude
“Try to remember to have gratitude in the face of all this. It sounds a little cliche, but trying to find the silver linings and taking it one day at a time has been helpful.”
3. Carve time to review, re-strategize, and adapt
“Carving time out for us to talk through what worked for the kids and what didn’t, then learning to adapt in the future has helped us maintain sanity. For example, we’ve instilled a bit more structure and avoided plopping the kids down in front of the TV, even when we just need to get things done for work. We’re very grateful to work for places that are empathetic and understanding, and we aren’t stressing to make ends meet like many friends in the restaurant/service industry, among other small businesses.”
4. Involve Kids in Little things
“Try to find little things to involve the kids in — our new routine has been to all sit and looks out a window as the sun sets each day. It’s a nice (usually) calming time to bookend the day visually and (hopefully) get the kids ready to fall asleep.”
3. Sarah Johal, Project Manager, and ERG Lead@ Workday:
“Our daughter is breezing through her daily elementary school work within an hour, leaving my husband and me to figure out how to program the rest of our blended hours together.
Having some type of structured schedule has helped us. We tend to break up her homeschooling before and after lunch breaks. And we’re fortunate to have a backyard to stretch and play during our shelter-in-place. I definitely take more breaks in between my conference calls and project planning than before.”
5. Dress up for the work-part
“ Do get dressed like you’re going into a casual business setting, it really helps me feel more focused vs. feeling the WFH hours blend into one long, endless experience.
6. Take plenty of timed breaks
“Give yourself plenty of breaks while navigating what works and what doesn’t — this is working from home during a global pandemic crisis, not working from home during normal business hours.”
7. Sneak in and make time for Self-care
“Find little moments of joy and laughter, even if you keep them to yourself for a bit of self-care time! Since I no longer get to listen to my favorite comedy podcasts during my commute, I try sneaking in bits at a time when I can when doing chores or going for a quick morning walk.”
Jenni Snyder, Engineering Manager @ Stripe
“Our family is two grown-ups and one five-year-old all sharing a relatively small space (we live in a condo). My husband and I both have a lot of meetings, so it’s harder for us to take shifts and keep the screen time to a minimum.
We’re not shifting schedules, although I do work earlier (~7:30 — ~4:00). We all take lunch as a family from 12:00 pm — 11:00 pm, and we’re trying to alternate screen time (Math Tango, PBS Kids, Endless Wordplay, Libby) with independent reading, drawing, creating matching games, and quiet play. My daughter is so close to reading independently but isn’t there yet.
8. Couple kids learning with activities they enjoy
“Long baths with bubbles and unusual toys have been one of my daughter’s favorite things to do, and we’ve also let her listen to audiobooks in the bath, which has been fun. Still, it would be good to have a list of resources and worksheets on hand”.
Mindful of the very new challenge that parents are facing, company employee resource groups, where present, are coming together to provide resources that can help keep kids engaged while they’re able to focus. Uber, for example, shared these excellent resources put together by Uber’s Parents ERG that includes a Parent Survival Guide and Tools to Support Parents Working from home. Both documents feature an extensive list of things to do for kids and resources for parents and are happy to make these publically available.
Let’s continue to find solutions together and groupthink through these challenges. I would love to open this up for discussion, and so I put these questions to you:
- What is your unique challenge in this situation?
- What resources are you using to keep your kids engaged?
- What support do you have from your employers?
The author is the Chief Operating Officer at Parents in Tech Alliance. Parents in Tech Alliance is a platform (currently launched in Beta), that brings together parents working in tech and employers to advocate for positive change within their organizations and beyond.