Lifestyle

How to balance working from home with childcare

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is having a significant impact on all our lives. This is especially true for working parents who have found themselves without childcare at short notice. For those working remotely, childcare is adding additional pressure at a time when stress levels are already high.

In fact, research carried out by Benenden Health found that more than half (58%) of parents whose mental wellbeing has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic cited balancing working from home and childcare as the biggest impact.

So, what can you do to better manage working from home with childcare other commitments?

Be honest with your employer

The most important step you can take is to have an honest conversation with your employer. Even if your workplace isn’t particularly flexible, you may find they are very understanding to your situation. Ask if you can change your working hours to better suit your routine at home and if your employer agrees, make sure you communicate your availability clearly to your team so they don’t expect immediate responses from you during ‘normal hours’.

Remember there are seven days in a week so if your employer is open to the idea, consider moving two of your working days to a weekend when you might have more support.

Prioritise your workload

Are you productive every minute of the day in the office? The chance is, you’re probably not. Depending on your working style, without the water-cooler conversations and endless meetings, you might find you can do just as much at home in a few less hours a day.

Focus on tasks that serve your business and team objectives first, making sure you prioritise the things that make a difference. Have a discussion with your employer about switching to an output vs hours approach to free a bit of precious time up in your day for being around for your children.

Consider time blocking

Take some time out to review both your work schedule and the average day at home. Consider what periods of time the two can work together, and when you get a few hours of child-free space to get your head down at work. Then consider blocking your time out accordingly.

Time blocking is a productivity method that involves you splitting your day into blocks dedicated to accomplishing specific tasks. So, if your partner is on childcare duty from 10am-12pm, this might be when you block time out to work on the things that really need your attention. Likewise, if the children usually play together in the garden or watch TV for an hour at around 2pm, you could use that time to sit with them doing work tasks that are urgent but don’t need full focus, such as email management or writing up meeting notes.

Bring the children along with you

If you can match your work tasks with your children’s school ones, you could make ‘school time’ a fun, collaborative experience. For example, if your children are learning English, tell them you have some reading to do as well. That way you can sit with your children as they work and use that time to read reports or meeting notes at the same time. This activity is age dependent so may be trickier if you have very young children at home.

Alternatively, if that just isn’t working for you, you could see household chores as learning exercises to help you juggle the housework with everything else. For example, you could use baking as a weight and measuring maths exercise or supermarket shopping as a problem-solving exercise.

You can also use this tactic for non-work related tasks such as exercise. The P.E. lessons personal trainer Joe Wicks has been sharing on YouTube can be done as a family, and it means you’re all getting your daily exercise in together.

Establish boundaries

This one might not be so easy if you have very young children who don’t understand the difference between work and play, but for anyone with older children it’s important to set boundaries.

Your home workspace will likely be flexible, sometimes you’ll need to work from the sofa and other times you might get some time in your home office or at your kitchen table. Having a dedicated workspace – even if it’s in the same room as your children - for when you need to get your head down is important though, as the children will understand that you’re working and only to disturb you if they really need you.

Be kind to yourself

Chances are, you’re currently feeling busier and more stressed than ever so it’s really important to take care of yourself. Making sure you get good quality sleep, eating a balanced diet and getting some movement and fresh air in will go a long way to helping your feel more positive and upbeat. If that all feels a bit too overwhelming right now, try to single out one area and focus on improving that day-by-day. Setting achievable targets such as going to bed half an hour earlier or swapping chips for new potatoes is a great way to start.

The situation the UK is in right now isn’t normal. So, it’s ok to give yourself a break. Benenden Health’s research found that 34% of parents are worried they’re not performing in their best professional capacity whilst trying to home school and 34% feel they’re not able to be a good parent because of work. That is an awful lot of worrying to be doing about a situation you can’t control. Consider initiating honest conversations about how hard it is with friends and colleagues; you might just find you’re all feeling exactly the same way.

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