Many parents are working from home alongside their children this fall as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the closure of company buildings and schools.
Lisa Walker, vice president of brand and workforce futurist at Boston-based Fuze, studies future of work trends. She said parents who work from home with their children are nervous about the looming winter and in “prep mode” as they settle into a new normal.
“In crisis mode, we all created a scenario in our head of what was going to work and now that we’re in it and seeing it day to day, we have to make adjustments,” said Walker, the mother of a fifth grader and an eighth grader. “What is this next chapter going to look like, and how do I make a plan?”
Ahead, Walker offers four tips for parents working at home with kids this fall.
1. Take stock of everyone’s work space.
Parents, get ready to “reworkify your house,” Walker said.
“I think all of us had very good intentions and set up these dedicated work spaces and everybody was sort of put into a different room or a different corner,” Walker said. “And what I think many parents are finding is that what they created is maybe not being used in the way that they thought it was going to be used.”
For example, now that the school year is underway, Walker found that her children do not like doing school work in their rooms and are much more comfortable working at the kitchen table. So she moved them to the table.
“We’ve got desk chairs at each end of the kitchen table,” Walker said. “Not ideal from a design standpoint. But they are getting their work done now in the place where they want to do their work.”
Her kids also like to do individual work in soft-seated areas like the couch, Walker said, so she bought lap desks for them.
“I think it’s still really important to keep the video meetings in a dedicated location,” Walker said.
Are your kids making too much noise during your meetings? There’s an app for that. Walker uses Krisp, which blocks background noise.
2. Evaluate technology and gear.
Parents should pay attention to the technology and gear the family uses and how they are being used, Walker said.
“A great headset is the number one thing you can do to ensure better video engagements,” Walker said.
Perhaps your child is more comfortable wearing ear buds, she said.
“Having multiple options [is a great idea] so they are never caught in a situation where something is not working and they don’t have a backup,” she said.
For parents who borrowed Chromebooks from their school districts, evaluate whether they are working as they should, she said.
“You may have a Chromebook that’s not working and it’s not at the speed it needs to be,” Walker said. “Make sure you are having those conversations with the school to ensure that your child is able to engage.”
If you’re seeing latency and lag in meetings, Walker said, evaluate the connectivity in your house. If boosting your connectivity is not in your budget, bring that up with your school district, she said.
“There are school programs for that as well,” Walker said.
3. Set a family schedule.
Parents striving for work/life balance can block off time in their day for lunch and recess with the kids, Walker said.
Be transparent with your boss, Walker said, and mark “family lunch time” on your schedule. If you aren’t “critical” to a meeting, perhaps you can skip it. If you need to be in the meeting, ask if it can be moved, she said.
“They can’t always move that meeting, but I think it’s important for us to block that time and ask those questions,” she said.
It’s better to be honest about why you can’t make a meeting than be the only employee in the meeting with your video turned off, “in the middle of trying to make lunch, half listening,” she said.
Parents hesitant to schedule family time need to remember these are different times, she said.
“Everyone is struggling right now and I think people have a lot more empathy and sympathy than we think they do,” she said. “So I think it’s the right time in our careers to start bringing more of ourselves to work.”
Your boss may be more understanding than you think, she said.
“Most managers and leaders and executives are extremely understanding of the situation of working parents,” Walker said. “And even if they are not, HR [human resources] and leadership teams are telling their managers and executives that this is a real issue and that they have to be understanding or they’re going to be in a situation where they have a really great employee burning out, which nobody wants.”
4. Be vigilant about mental health.
Mental health breaks outside of the house are very important, Walker said, so parents should start thinking about what that will look like when the temperature drops.
“[Ask yourself] ‘What can we do to stay outdoors and get that fresh air?'” she said.
It’s a good idea to brainstorm winter activities your family might enjoy ahead of time so you’re ready come winter, she said. Whether you choose to walk, hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski, she said, figure out where you can go and what kind of gear you’ll need.
“I found a local pool that is blocking hour-long blocks for families, and it’s $20 for an hour,” Walker said. “So that’s a calculated risk that we’re taking as a family, but it’s something that we found that’s a really great outlet when we can’t be outdoors.”
Setting up virtual enrichment activities for your kids after school may not cut it, Walker said. She said it didn’t work for her kids, who after learning all day, were “absolutely Zoomed out.”
Also, many companies are offering meditation apps for free, Walker said, so it’s worth asking your place of employment about it.
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