Sophie Hennekam, Professor in HRM at Audencia Business School
Working from home blurs the lines between two areas which are traditionally kept separate: work and family life. This separation normally guarantees a healthy relationship between the various components of our life.
On the one hand, some employees who are working from home may be distracted by household chores during their working hours, such as shopping or cleaning. On the other hand, they may find themselves over-compensating, thinking that they have to prove themselves even more, and this often comes at the expense of their family lives. So how do you best manage this?
Establish a schedule
For parents with school-age children who are now at home all day the lockdown naturally risks making life in the home more chaotic. Although it can be tempting to wake up or go to bed later than usual, it’s very important to keep a certain routine. Also, shower, get dressed, and keep to fixed meal-times. Try to stay as close as possible to your usual weekly routine.
It’s fine to adjust your schedule to allow for the children being at home, but once you’ve found a balance, stick to it. Most fundamentally of all, create a separate work space with a good internet connection, a desk and a comfortable seat. This dedicated space allows you to recreate an office set-up where you can more easily focus on your professional goals for the day or the week.
Remain connected during your work day
It is vital to maintain social ties and coordination between teams. Communicate regularly with your colleagues, via platforms such as Teams, Yammer, or even WhatsApp. Such tools are invaluable to avoid overflowing mailboxes. Share good practices and achievements, as you would do in the office. Schedule informal discussion meetings with colleagues to replace the traditional tea or coffee breaks. The lockdown can very difficult for some people and simple and frequent virtual interactions with colleagues can help prevent and reduce psychosocial risks.
Use and display your “status” via those digital tools, so that your colleagues know whether you are busy, available or whether you are taking the day off. And there’s no need to take your mobile to the bathroom for fear of missing your manager’s call! If it’s not something you would normally do at the office, don’t do it at home.
It may seem paradoxical, but breaks are not a waste of time! On the contrary, studies show that taking breaks is crucial to “recharge” our ability to concentrate, and remain productive. It also helps us to take a step back and get a new perspective on what we are doing. So, if you are overwhelmed with work, do not feel guilty. Take a deep breath, go to another room, and allow yourself a few minutes to think about something completely different. Also, don’t forget to move! Exercising is hugely important for psychological and physical well-being.
How to work from home whilst looking after children
Working from home can feel like a “mission impossible”, especially with small children. Parents with school-aged children parents have the added responsibility of supervising distance-learning and homework, sometimes for several hours a day.
The management of your workload must take your childcare commitments into account and you need to work around them. If you feel this is not working or are struggling, speak to your manager or your HR department to find a solution.
Working from home requires finding a balance. Needless to say, you don’t need to give into many parents’ secret weapon: screens! Equally, there is no point demonising them either; some television channels have educational programs which can be beneficial to your children and keep them busy while allowing you to complete your work.
If you are at home with your spouse, make a schedule that fits both of your professional requirements, so that you each have specific working hours and are not disturbing each other during those times. It is also important to explain this schedule to children who are old enough to understand, so that they respect it. Try to give them their own, age-appropriate responsibilities. For primary school children, you can turn it into a game by using a chart with tasks which can be ticked, or use stickers or a reward system. This has the added benefit of making them feel independent and proud of the tasks they have accomplished.
Of course, it may be that working in the evening may be the best or only solution for some parents. The most important thing is to find a rhythm that works for you, your family and your work!