School’s out for (what seems like..) forever right now. It shouldn’t be that time of year again… This calendar month is not the one where we are supposed to be winding down into the Summer holidays: a time when ‘juggling’ skills become paramount as parents across the land dread balancing their work deliverables with the fact that their kids have 6 weeks plus holiday stretching out in front of them. But yet here we are. In May. Finding ourselves weaving in our work and home life on a scale never seen before.
For many in your teams, initially working from home may have been a joy to remove from the commute and a time to show how productive one can be without the daily “ do you want another coffee?”. Yet for 7.9 million households where workers have dependent children (and particularly those with under tens who will remember this time as a very ‘special’ time indeed….), the challenges presented by working from home when your kids are off school/ nursery can test even those with the patience of Job.
Indeed many years ago when mine were much younger, I experienced my first very own ‘BBC’ moment when a newly acquired client called up to discuss a very sensitive situation with their team. Thinking both sons were napping, I took the call, put on my most professional voice, only for my son to start hollering about his nappy activities. He’s always been articulate (and did I mention loud?), so there was no doubt whatsoever about the cause of his complaint, although said client did his best to be British in the situation and completely ignore that this was happening …..
It’s been a few years since then and between us at TheHRhub now, we now have a bevvy of children aged between 1 and 15. But whilst the experience of working flexibly over time has given us some insight into how to do this, managing your work and your children 24/7 without external childcare, presents even greater challenges than we’ve seen before. So we’ve pulled together our own tips about managing to keep on top of things, without losing your cool:
- Plan to Fail: Turn ordinary planning on it’s head and assume that whatever you plan for will not stick. Instead, plan for alternatives. Yes, you may have your day mapped out on a visual planner, colour coded and brimming with unicorns so that all know what is going on and the kids can look forward to the fun times as well as see when you have your less ‘fun’ (i.e work!) plans too. But it’s 100% guaranteed that your kids will have other plans about how they want to spend the day…. So plan what alternatives you have when the ‘schedule’ backfires: activities, doing the more thought intensive work with them on your lap or in front of the telly ( yes, we all have those things we can do with one eye on things). I’m also a big fan of bribery at these times & would propose the liberal use of star charts to nudge along.
- Be elastic with your team: There’s not a person on Zoom/ Skype/ Hangouts who hasn’t been interrupted at some point by a chatty/ screaming child or voices in the background. This is life at the moment and unless you have the unlikely scenario of a fleet of nannies waiting in your cupboard, there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it. So not only tell your team you are relaxed but show them too, by inviting in your own family to come and say Hi if they’re about.
- Show trust and reasonableness in timings: If there’s a hard deadline for something then make someone aware of this in advance ( and not on the day). But make sure that your team knows you are not going to be checking in every five minutes and are comfortable in trusting all to manage themselves and their time: this way if they need to take the kids out to the park before frustration and fight levels reach DEFCON Five, then they can do so as they feel the need to feel guilt about it because it’s in ‘work time’.
- Working Time Extended: Not in an effort to make people work for longer each day. But to give people the opportunity to start later, intersperse their days with breaks to focus on their kids and manage all that they need to do in the best way possible. In the words of my own teenager: 9-5 is sooooo dead….
- One Size (Doesn’t) Fit All: It’s unlikely what’s going to work for someone with a two and three year old is going to be the same for a twelve year old at home, so recognise that there’s no one-size fits all approach and talk to your team about what might work best for them.
- Be prepared to offer/ take ‘holiday’: we may not be able to escape at the moment to that gorgeous villa in the sun or the yearned for city break in Barcelona, but by taking some of our annual leave and not focussing on work, could help many out by reducing stress levels in order to focus on just one area.
Fancy a chat? We don’t need to Zoom ( yes, we’re getting sick of it now too!!). Give us a bell on 0203 627 7048 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get right back to you.