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How to WFH with the children around?

6 min read
WFH

Work-from-home (WFH) and remote working looks like it is here to stay. We share some tips to be more efficient WFH-ing while having the children around the home at the same time.

The pandemic continues to keep many parents in a semi-permanent work-from-home (WFH) situation with many of them looking into various remote working scenarios (think café, sibling’s house, co-working space, Starbucks) or some manner of telecommuting (alternate week in the office, 2-days in and 2-days out, etc).

There are many positives to the WFH situation, such as the ability to spend more quality time with the children for example by sharing meals together, being home at bedtime, the ability to head outdoors without commuting home. Being more present with the family brings along many positives such as regular and meaningful interaction and social support.

Yes, we admit it can be a struggle and frustrating with the children at home to be productive, remain sane after the fifth Zoom call and still be fully present when they need it.

Here are some tips we have compiled across from other parents to try such that we can have the best of both worlds – being a champion to our children and partner while also being efficient at work.

Recognise that this ongoing uncertainty is not easy for both you and your child

We have just got through a challenging 2020. You had to learn how to WFH and keep up with your teams and colleagues while adapting to a different environment where things were unclear, uncertain and under-optimised. Guess what? So did your kids. They had a period of home-based learning, a return to school where all the adults asked them to stay away from their friends, and hang out in small groups, while constantly washing hands, sanitizing, and wearing masks that made them sound and look funny. It’s still undecided which group had the harder time.

If the kids are burning some energy off at home, while you are on the third video call, it might be wiser not to yell at them, and instead retreat to another room (if possible). The kids might not have photographic memories but they will remember where and when they felt uncomfortable and upset, and it will be harder to manage repressed feelings than invest in a pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds.

Set boundaries and compartmentalise

Children are creatures of habit, and prior to the pandemic, the end of the workday and weekends meant your time was their time. Now that you are home the entire day, they might misunderstand that the weekdays are just like weekends, and it’s their time to do fun, exciting stuff. Honestly, I bet all of us fathers would prefer the weekends anyway.

Unfortunately, work beckons and it’s important (if you have not already) to sit them down and explain why you are home more often now and what WFH means. It might help to set aside blocks of time throughout the workday where you can be available for them. This might be to share a meal together, or a short time downstairs at the playground, or even a boardgame. And when it’s time for play, be present, be engaged and not constantly checking your Whatsapp messages or email on the mobile.

For optimal effect, ensure that the time is blocked off on your work calendar as well to prevent double booking. Catch up post-time block by being fully engaged with the presentation, meeting or report after. 

Create a routine and stick to it

While it was fun to be spontaneous when you only had yourself to take care of, it’s different being a father. Set up a balanced daily routine with work time, play time, self-care time and meal times. It will help you mentally prepare for each day, and also help your kid understand when you have available slots.

Teach them to read your calendar, colour code the work slots and the play time slots so they know if you are in a work slot, that they can let you get to it because there will be play afterwards.

Do not be too rigid on yourself though. There are always poo explosions, tired temper meltdowns, general stubbornness to throw you off track. Just take a deep breath, become Mr. Practical and parent on.

WFH

Be honest and communicate more

It is hard enough dealing with your own career and family. However, your team mate at the other end of the Zoom call might just be doing the same. And the singles and couples with no kids, they might have their own non-work struggles happening as well.

WFH is not an easy environment despite the many positives associated with it so far.

Be brave enough to communicate with your colleagues, your managers and your family. Explain to them the environment and context, as well as what would help you deliver better outcomes. Reciprocate when your colleagues share their challenges.

Ask for help from your partner or your parents. Share with them that you are delivering an important presentation or you need some space to do deep work on a proposal or presentation. Help might be available but they might be worried about crossing boundaries without clarity. Besides, how many grandparents do we know that are not keen on spending time with their grandkids? If they are not confident handling new-borns or toddlers perhaps due to energy or medical conditions, use the weekends to do so together and build some confidence.

Leave the guilt outside the house

Yes, screen time is such a dreadful thing. Much like how it was a bad thing to be hanging outdoors with your pack of friends until dark in the pre-internet days. If the pandemic was a thing then, we would have been trapped indoors, alone or (worse) with siblings watching re-runs or the news (!) for days on end. It would have been horrible.

Unlimited, uncontrolled screen time is a bad thing. Knowing how to manage time or content, as well as combining screen time with outdoor, non-screen based play can be a good balance.

Set some boundaries or limits, play it into the routine perhaps when you need to jump onto a video meeting or push the report through, and it can be a support tool. Look for edu-tainment shows, or get older kids involved with play-based toys such as colouring, lego, jigsaw puzzles and experiments. We heard some of these toys work well for adults looking for mental and stress relief.

Importantly, explain to the children why and how the situation came to be, remind them they have to earn their share of screen or play time and above-all maintain a positive mindset about how much and when you decide to allow for edu-tainment.

Reframe your expectations

Perhaps you were a work-horse back in the office, clocking a full day’s work before transforming into the perfect father in the evenings. With the pandemic, your worlds have collided, and you find it challenging to concentrate and focus on churning out the same work output. Especially when your child has asked you for the seventh time to repeat the same story.

If you have not already, it is time to sit yourself down and explain to yourself as slowly as needed, that the pre-pandemic days are not going to happen again. It’s best that you figure out a new balance between what you think a productive day is, and what can realistically be achieved.

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Find work-arounds such as working after the kids are asleep or start early in the morning to get some work done before they wake up. Put highly visual signals such as demarcating an ‘office’ space, or that closing the door means you are in a call. Focus on completing what can be done easily, quickly or efficiently when you have a block of time (see the above suggestion on time blocking).

Explain to the kids that you are not ignoring them but there are times in the day that you need to concentrate on work, because your colleagues (“work friends”) are relying on you to do what’s needed.

Be gentle on yourself in order to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind. Remember, without the commute home, there is lesser time to mull over the day before having to wear your ‘father’ hat and open the door. While compartmentalisation can help, it’s easier to just be chill, gentle and go with the flow.


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