Here’s our 10 tips for managing family home working over the coming weeks, updated for the January/February 2021 national lockdown.
Schools have again had to close their doors to the majority of children in response to the Coronavirus pandemic so that we can all participate in reducing the spread of the virus and reduce the pressure on the NHS.
Most of us will also have work commitments to fulfil. The prospect of combining work and supervising a remote school day with childcare is quite overwhelming for most parents.
We set up Career-Mums – a social enterprise – to bridge the often-conflicting worlds of working and parenting, working with individuals to support them in their careers as working parents. Through our sister company, CM Talent, we help employers support working parents enabling them to attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams. Our services include maternity and paternity coaching, facilitating employee networks, developing flexible working policies, line manager training and leadership development programmes.
At this unprecedented time, we all have a responsibility to follow the government’s guidelines to stay at home unless we are a key worker. Most employers have set up home working facilities for employees who can work remotely and also adapted policies and issued guidance in response to the latest measures. There certainly hasn’t been much time to prepare for the school closures and making remote schooling work in practice.
So, here’s out 10 tips for making family home working work for you and you family:
1. Do what’s best for your family
Your family unit is unique.
Your work commitments and family dynamics are different from any other family. Take the lead for your family and make this situation work in the best way you can for your family’s circumstances.
Expectations from your employer(s) (hours of work, flexibility, remote working protocols) and the number and age of children will impact what you are able to do and how you set up your home working arrangements.
Young children will need much more constant care throughout each day with plenty of activities to keep them entertained. It’s unlikely you will be able to combine work with caring for young children whilst they are awake.
Most older children will be able to do their schoolwork without constant supervision, so it’s likely your work can be completed simultaneously.
2. Create structure and routine
We recommend creating structure for your days at home to allow each family member to get their needs met.
Most schools are expecting their pupils to follow their regular school timetable. This may mean that parents can structure their work commitments around the school day such as doing a few hours work during the early morning or working in the evenings. Where two parents are working from home, break up each day between you to accommodate each person’s work commitments whilst sharing childcare – this could be done by the hour or in longer chunks depending on each person’s work flexibility and priorities.
Creating daily routines and an overall working structure helps to create psychological safety – an important factor at such an uncertain time. It enables you to take control and lead your family to action at this time. It also creates an opportunity for communicating and bringing each of you together.
We’ve created a Daily Family Home Working Planner to help families plan out their days and ensure that each family gets their needs taken into account. At this time, it’s going to be more important than ever to look after our physical and mental wellbeing as well as ensuring household chores are done and that you carve out some quality family time together. You can download the free Planner here or from our Career-Mums Club.
3. Regularly review your plan
Regularly talk about whether your daily plan is working for you as a family:
- Is work getting done?
- Are the children coping with your new arrangements?
- Are you finding time to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?
- What’s working well?
- What needs changing to make it work better?
- What did you learn from last year’s lockdown situation that can help you this year?
4. Looking after young children
Younger children will need close supervision and care. Their attention span is fairly short so it’s useful to provide some routine to your days whilst making their play-based activities varied, interesting and fun. Have a mix of activities prepared each day including things to make, do, count, read, listen to and watch.
Get them involved in helping with household chores. There are lots of free resources online for the age group of your child enabling you to expand your world from the comfort of your own home. Also build in calming activities towards the end of their day to wind down to bedtime well.
Younger school aged children will be set schoolwork by their teachers which will need to be supported by you.
5. Home working for older children
Most older children will be able to follow the instructions set by their school and manage themselves with minimal supervision from you. We recommend setting up a workspace for them at home, where space allows, so they are not working in their bedroom. Let their bedroom be a relaxing space for them to retreat to after their work is finished.
It may be appropriate to limit social media usage to ensure their schoolwork is getting completed, but don’t underestimate the importance of them connecting with their friends whilst the stay at home procedure is being followed.
For teenagers, this will be a time when they would normally be increasing their sense of independence and forging their identity beyond the home and their family. It’s an ideal time for them to hone their life skills around the home helping with cooking, laundry and other household chores.
Put some house rules in place to keep your older children safe at this time, whilst empathising with their situation and giving them some control over how they spend their non-schoolwork time.
6. Managing it all
Recognise this new way of working is going to take quite a bit of managing. Many of us have more than one child, possibly in different schools, with different personalities, perhaps with complex needs as well as working in demanding jobs – so there’s lots to manage and lots of information coming at us all the time, particularly as the pandemic unfolds.
Take time to get yourselves organised as a family to make this situation work as best as you can for each of you. Providing a structure to your days will help to create calmness, safety and a focus on getting things done in a positive way rather than falling into a cycle of despair and negativity. It’s likely to involve trial and error, tweaking along the way to make it work for each of you. Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail – even if this means letting go of some things and not getting everything completed.
The government and employers recognise that working from home whilst caring for children will be challenging and it’s great to see some employers have put resources together to help their employees at this time. If you feel that you are not being supported then raise this with your line manager.
7. Keep talking as a family
We find ourselves in uncertain and unchartered times, being likened to war-time. Our response will continue to be a mix of fear and a mix of other emotions as we all experience a personal impact on our liberty and our wellbeing.
Keep talking as a family about what is going on outside the home, the important work of the key workers, the importance of non-key workers staying at home, how vulnerable people are being supported, what you are doing as a family to help and how you are all feeling about it.
Tensions may rise at home over time with everyone restricted to being at home together with a mix of different personalities and temperaments. Do what you can to ensure everyone’s safety, reducing conflict and deflecting arguments.
Support each other to be understanding of others and to look out for each others’ physical and mental wellbeing. Turn the news off if you are finding it to be too overwhelming, do fun activities, connect with family and friends remotely, change your routine and pace at the weekends and get outside when possible.
8. Give in to the virus
If you or a member of the family are unwell, due to contracting the virus, or for other reasons, stop work and schoolwork to look after yourself.
Ask for help from family members or neighbours to get the help, support and medication that you need. Follow NHS guidelines for managing your condition and to reduce the risk of passing it on to other people.
Inform your employer and your children’s school if you or any member of your family are unwell.
9. Keep connected
Keep in contact with your children’s teachers and your line manager. Remember, we’re all new to this arrangement and making it up as we go along! If it’s not working for you, suggest ways to change it for the better.
Keep connecting with friends, family and other working parents. There are lots of free and paid-for online resources to keep us all entertained, informed and learning at this time such as online PE classes, cooking classes, downloadable books, museum tours, language lessons … and if you can’t find what you are looking for it will be only a matter of time before its available.
Let’s just hope the internet continues to work effectively.
10. Ask for help
You are not alone – there are millions of families going through this at the moment as the pandemic spreads globally and lockdowns are enforced. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance at this time.
The combination of your family dynamics and working circumstances are unique so ensure you get the help you need to make this time work for you and your family.
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If you’ve found our 10 Tips for Making Home Family Working work for you – share it with other parents and let us know how you are getting on – what’s working for you and what’s not – in our Career-Mums Club.
Sally is an ex-HR Director and experienced coach and trainer. Following a career break to raise her young children (one with complex needs) she set up Career-Mums with fellow coach, Nishi Mehta, to support parents in their careers after having children. They set up sister business, CM Talent to help employers attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams.
Sally has been Vice-Chair of Coventry and Warwickshire CIPD for the last 3 years and is a School Governor of Woodlands Special School. She has an interest in child development and has completed Family Futures’ Neuro-Physiological Psychotherapy training. She is a parent to two daughters.