For many professionals, the global pandemic has meant a drastic change from working in the office to working from home. Add to that the need to juggle work with family life, and finding any semblance of work-life balance could seem like an impossible task.
If you can relate—and are a working parent still finding it hard to balance work with family commitments—here are five ways to better manage your responsibilities during these uncertain times.
1. Nail down a schedule—that will work for everyone
With so much change over the past several months, many family routines have taken a backseat. However, in order for work and family commitments to coexist harmoniously, your days need to have structure. So, start to get back to your routines by writing down a schedule for working days that all family members can work towards.
On your schedule, note which parts of the day you’ll need to devote to family time—such as making meals, getting kids dressed, helping kids with remote learning, and getting kids to and from to school if they're attending in person—then do your best to organize your working schedule around them. While there will inevitably be some unforeseen overlaps, having a schedule in place should help ensure any overlaps are few and far between.
2. Carve out designated work areas—for you and your kids
A major problem faced by parents new to remote work is the challenge of maintaining productivity with distractions all around. In theory, giving children tasks designed to give you quiet time to concentrate on work sounds like a good plan. But in actuality, it isn’t always that simple.
To overcome constant interruptions, it pays to carve out designated areas for you and your kids. For your kids, this could be mean making dedicated playing and/or remote learning zones. Doing so will give your kids their own space to focus and carry out tasks you or their teachers have set them. In turn, you should create a work-only area for yourself, ideally in a separate room if it’s safe to leave your children unattended.
In order to effectively define boundaries, you need to communicate to your family that when you’re in your work area, you shouldn’t be disturbed—and vice-versa! This should help to establish the right structure and boundaries needed to let you (and your kids) work uninterrupted.
3. Share childcare duties—if possible
Ensuring that your kids are well looked after (when they're not at school) is the number one priority for parents, but juggling remote work with watching kids isn’t an easy act to master. If you can, create a sharing schedule with your partner to coordinate childcare responsibilities throughout the day. This should accommodate both of your work schedules, ensuring that you each have time to carry out your roles effectively from home and conduct calls in quiet areas.
If possible, you might also call in the help of close family members or older siblings to take some of the responsibility of keeping little ones entertained. Even if it’s just for a few hours (or even minutes) at key times of the day, knowing that you have childcare sorted out will make for a smoother transition from parent to professional. It will also make your video work chats much less stressful.
4. Get organized—like you’ve never been organized before
To do all that you need to do at work and take care of your kids, you’re going to have to get more organized than ever before. This is why, in addition to writing down a schedule, it pays to arrange your work schedule ahead of time as much as possible. Also, it's important to optimize your daily routine to help ease some of the pressure on your work schedule.
Simple things like preparing your kids’ lunches and laying out clean school uniforms the night before (if they're going to school in person) could save you valuable time in the mornings. You can also prepare family dinners in advance by bulk cooking and freezing meals that can be quickly reheated. Unfortunately, being extremely organized might mean spending your day off (in its entirety) washing clothes, cleaning work and school spaces, and cooking.
Getting organized is particularly important if you’re interviewing remotely—that is, if you’re hunting for a new job. While your colleagues and bosses may be understanding of family interruptions, potential employers may not. So, to avoid any awkward interruptions that could hamper your chances of landing a new job, make sure your partner or a family member is able to look after the kids during your interview. That way, you won’t have to worry about any unwelcome interruptions. This should extend to giving yourself some free time to prepare and focus before your interview, making sure you’re set up in a quiet and calm area of the house.
5. Champion good communication—with your colleagues and family members
Good communication is an integral part of our daily lives, but during these unprecedented times where working and learning remotely are the new normals, it’s more important than ever to ensure clear and regular communication across the board. This means you need to keep everyone informed—colleagues, managers, partners, and children—to help manage expectations, remain productive, and ensure that tasks aren’t getting on top of you.
Schedules are essential, but we all know that things come up each day that can throw us off our routines. This is where clear and frequent communication is highly important. It's essential to keep your partner and kids in the loop about new meetings that might arise, and speak with your colleagues and managers when a new family commitment arises. Being upfront and realistic about your availability—as early as possible—will help avoid potential miscommunications later.
Luke Conod is managing director of School Uniform Shop, providing high-quality, competitively priced school wear to see children from primary school through to sixth form in style.