Working from home has resulted in many families trying to navigate through the many challenges that they were put through this pandemic. The stresses put on the family resulted in many issues that surfaced in learning to understand the work-life balance. This article highlights some of those challenges and how you can navigate them through some easy to use solutions.
CHALLENGE 1: NEW OFFICE SPACE– THE HOME
Working from home means that our new office space is either our dining room table or if you are one of the lucky ones, you have a dedicated office space. Some families live in cramped quarters which means a big adjustment in how to manage interruptions from children and other family members. I recently spoke to one of my cousins who has a young child, 10 months of age. I asked him how his working environment was because he lives in an apartment with his parents and the baby. His response was “WE ARE MAKING IT WORK, but it is hard especially when I have to be on calls and the baby is crying”
HOW TO MANAGE THIS?
First and foremost you need to ACCEPT THE SITUATION. There is nothing you can do to change the environment that you and your family are in. You have to accept that interruptions can happen and that getting stressed and angry about it will not solve your issues. ACCEPT that it is stressful for the family especially young children who are now indoors and only have you for their needs. Once you can accept these things then navigating a new work place becomes slightly manageable.
But here are some boundaries that you can set in place at home but do remember that with young children, not all of these boundaries can be enforced at all times:
1) Try and make a dedicated office space in your home even if it means using your own bedroom if you live in apartments. For example, you can put in a small table and make it face a window to avoid the bed being seen during video calls.
2) Have a sign on your door which could say “DO NOT DISTURB” to let other family members in the household members know that you are on a call. This way you can have fewer interruptions during this important discussions.
3) With babies at home, ask your significant other or family members to take care of the baby in another room: Babies are unpredictable and I know this because I have gone through this stage and understand the concerns involved. My suggestion is to let your colleagues know in advance that they could hear the baby. Another good investment to make is in noise cancelling head phones which do reduce the background noises.
4) With older children, set clear rules and let them know about the “Do not disturb” sign: Older children are understanding and for the duration of the call can keep themselves busy. As a parent I can tell you that there are a few things you might have to prepare for before your big call:
– Make sure you have few snacks, juices, water bottles ready for them so that they do not disturb you.
– You an also set up a television program for them to watch during the duration of your call which also keeps children busy for that length.
CHALLENGE 2: OVER-WORKING
It is very easy to over-work when you are home. Time becomes very fluid and a sentence like “JUST 5 MORE MINUTES AND I AM DONE” lands up becoming close to half an hour, 45 minutes to an hour. This can not only stress you but can become stressful for the family who is looking to you either to share work responsibility or spend time with you.
I can attest to this challenge through my own household. My husband was working for very long hours when the lock down happened. His day would start at 8.30 a.m. with calls and then he would not come and join the family till 6.30 p.m. or so and sometimes even later. With the children being home and me constantly taking care of the children, I wanted him to take something off my plate. Not only that, I saw first hard that he was getting stressed with work. We finally had a discussion about this and ever since then, he comes down by 5.30 p.m every day and things have been running smoothly since then.
HOW DO I STOP FROM OVER-WORKING?
1) Set clear boundaries:
The discussion I had with my husband was not only based on my need for him to help but it was also to make him realize that he needed to set boundaries on himself. Make sure that you start working from a set time and finish at a said time.
2) Take breaks in between:
Set reminders on your phone to take frequent breaks which could include to walk, have a coffee-break, make it a water break. This allows your mind to briefly detach from your work. An indirect effect…it lets you know what time it is and how much time is left in a typical work day.
3) Try and schedule your calls for the earlier part of the day:
I know that sometimes this is not feasible but it can be doable to make sure you finish on time.
4) Schedule “ME” time:
The reason I put this in here is because this holds you accountable to not working long hours. For example, you can set a reminder towards the end of a working day to go for a walk, exercise or grocery shopping. This reminder becomes a signal to call it the end of the day, so to speak.
CHALLENGE 3: MISSING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS
When asked most about what people miss about going to the office, the over-whelming response has always been the interactions at work. It becomes very hard to normalize yourself to a situation where you are the only one in the home-office; there are no conversations when you go and get a coffee or just a colleague stopping by your cubicle at the office to chit-chat.
If you are someone who is used to traveling to work, then it almost feels like you lost out on a freedom to meet your clients and have that face-to-face interaction with many of them.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT THIS?
This one becomes a bit tricky to navigate because it depends on the closeness of your colleagues to you but here are some suggestions that can help you around with this:
1) Schedule Virtual Coffee Zoom Calls:
If this was a colleague that you would go and get lunch with and/or your coffee/tea with, then it would be okay to schedule a virtual coffee meet-up with them. It allows both of you to discuss things other than work and it will provide a personal satisfaction as well.
2) Virtual Calls with Family:
These can become very uplifting when you are stressed. Just seeing your family members provides a positive influence on your mind and uplifts your mood.
CHALLENGE 4: WORK-WORK BALANCE
Even though I should have led with this challenge of balancing work and life at home, I think this requires a bit more discussion on how a balance can be struck when both spouses are working?
I participated in a Twitter Chat recently and one of the questions was based on work-life balance. This becomes an interesting conversation because the pandemic suddenly brought into focus as to how much women have to juggle when they are full-time working moms. So, how does a couple navigate this tricky situation when both of them are working and they have work commitments?
HOW DO WE JUGGLE IT?
1) Have a discussion on shared responsibilities: This means that even though spouses/partners share their responsibilities at home, they require a conversation on how they would deal with children and care-giving of other family members. This means if one has an important work call and it is lunch time, then the other can cook and give food. Working your schedules out before hand is absolutely necessary and can be done a night prior.
2) If both of you have important calls then television and other devices are going to become your best friends. As parents, we all try to limit device time but if there is no one else in your home to take care of the children, then devices can help keep the children busy for a long time.
3) Try and keep some “me” time which becomes very helpful when all family members are living under the same roof. It is okay to talk to your significant other and let them know that you require a few moments alone. It can become overwhelming when there is no “space” to yourself. Having “me” time doesn’t have to be hour long but can also be for 15 minutes to half an hour where you are just reconnecting with yourself.
4) Children can become irritable when at home 24 x 7 and can make working from home sometimes challenging. At that time, have a conversation with your children, try and spend some extra time and let them know that they are loved. Talk to them about how their mom and dad need to work also. You would be surprised that children are very understanding in these situations. But yes, they will have their moments, so be patient with them.
5) Teaching children at home would require both of the partners at home to put a schedule in place. Navigating ZOOM calls can become challenging especially when both spouses/partners are working. At this time, it would necessitate a conversation again to see who can put the children on their calls. If it requires printing work sheets at home, then try and print those a night before or early in the morning and set them up for your children at their dedicated home-work stations (in my home, we use the dining table!)
We don’t know how long we all will have to be at home due to this pandemic. But at least we can make the most of it by just enjoying and having fun with each other as a family.