With the government’s announcement that schools in England will close at the end of the day on Friday (20 March 2020), working from home with children in the home will become a new reality for many.
At a time when working from home in itself may be a new experience, adding children into the mix will be a challenge for all. The traditionally understood models are being thrown out of the window. There is probably no different building to walk into or door to leave your troubles at. There is no commute to give you space between home and work.
Homeworking has many benefits and we will, over the coming days, write more about those and how businesses can provide long term proactive support for homeworking. Right now, however, the challenges of exclusively working from home need to be considered and overcome.
Supporting homeworking will help you to run your business over the coming months. Changes will need to be made, but supporting employees now will help to grow loyal employees and strong teams for the future.
Where possible working times will need to become flexible. This isn’t one day of children being at home whilst ill or due to snow. They can’t simply be stuck in front of the TV for the foreseeable future. Parents will need the freedom to plan schedules around their work as well as entertaining, potentially even educating, their children.
Some families will have multiple homeworkers. These households will potentially be at an advantage, in that they will be able to shift work between working and childcare. The only way full time jobs and full time childcare can coexist is by increasing flexibility around hours of work, allowing employees to start earlier or work later into the day. The needs of families will be dependent upon the ages of children and the work of others in the family. Many employees will be the only parent available for childcare and won’t be able to share the challenge.
Your employees may be sharing parenting with a key worker, someone who is required at work in the NHS or supermarkets for example. Supporting your employee to work around childcare and around their co-parent’s work benefits everyone.
This is a time to work with people, understand their situations and support them to make decisions.
Whilst flexibility is good and will be needed, you should encourage employees to build routines around this. Routines are good for children and will help them to deal with the situation. Routines also help us work, helping productivity and team communication. Routines which can be shared will help when planning meetings and collaboration between colleagues.
Scheduling meetings and conference calls in advance will help employees to manage and schedule childrens activities around them.
Allow employees the flexibility to build those routines around their needs, the needs of their children, and the business needs at the current time.
No homeworking guide is complete without mentioning communication. It is vital. Communicate with your employees your support for them at this time and what you are doing to make it work. Encourage employees to communicate their routines and their needs so teams can work together with understanding.
Picking up the phone is important. Hearing voices and talking to people, especially at a time of physical isolation, can be crucial for the mental health of your employees. However, at the current time, balance this with the availability of online messaging tools. These tools allow people to work at different times, to communicate when it is convenient to them. Use these tools for matters that are less time critical, allowing everyone to focus when they are most able to.
Support employees by trusting them to respond to messages when it is convenient and appropriate for them. The benefit of these systems is that each person can get involved in the discussion or respond to questions at a time suitable to them. Communicate this with employees. Communicate that messages do not require instant responses and that people will be working at different times. This style of communication, described as ‘asynchronous’, is a considerable change of mindset for many but vital at this time to allow people to communicate when it is convenient to them without putting pressure on others to reply instantly.
Encourage your employees to keep healthy, to take breaks including fresh air. Social isolation does not prevent people from leaving their homes and going for a walk. Physical exercise benefits mental and physical health.
Breaks refresh us. Walks and running can be great for creative thinking and clearing the mind. This is good advice in general, whether homeworking or in an office but even more important now when routine school walks and commutes are not taking place.
Whilst in ordinary circumstances it’s not ideal to have children calling their parents in the background or to appear in a video call, right now, we have to show understanding and even embrace this. Small children in particular may not be used to being told “mummy/daddy is here but we have to pretend they are not”, especially if there is not another parent who can answer their request. Even if there is another parent available the interruption may come before the other parent gets there.
Everyone is in the same boat so the lines of professionalism can be relaxed slightly. Your clients will understand as their employees are going through this too.
Help your employees through this transition. Change is difficult, and there are a whole host of unknowns and personal challenges people are facing right now. Never before have the lines between home and work been so blurred.
We also have a free “Homeworking with Kids - Guide for Employees”, if you want a copy of this free guide to share with your teams please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Article last updated: 18 March 2020
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