Casey Palmer is learning to adjust to not only working from home because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but doing so while also looking after his children, two sons ages six and four, who are home for three weeks with schools closed.
“I’ve been an involved dad, but this is next level,” says Mr. Palmer, who lives in Toronto and works for Ontario’s provincial government. He and his wife both began working from home on Monday.
His work station is set up so that it is ergonomically comfortable – one essential step in working from home, he says. Each day, he spends time outside with his children, whether it’s for a walk or to ride bikes and scooters. “We’re making sure not to stay cooped up inside all day," Mr. Palmer says.
And he’s learning to adjust, like so many other people in his situation. “Each day is a little easier, but it was jarring at first,” he says.
Working from home presents many challenges when you are used to working in an office. Where should you set up a work station? When do you take breaks? How do you stay connected with colleagues? For parents who are also tending to their children, the challenge is incredibly stressful. However, a few basic principles can greatly help reduce that stress and help everyone under one roof stay as happy as possible.
The first thing every family should do is an assessment of what every person in the home needs to have a good day, says Clare Kumar, a Toronto-based productivity consultant. That could mean time in the afternoon for mom to do a video-conference call with co-workers, play time for the kids or exercise time together, for example. “Focus is the biggest challenge of all,” she says.
Next, use that to create a workable structure. “What’s our exercise time? What’s our quiet time?” she says.
Make sure to get physical activity. And make sure to eat at scheduled times. Too many people who work from home will look up at the clock, see that it’s 4 p.m. and realize they haven’t eaten since breakfast. "Everyone working from home needs recess and lunch,” Ms. Kumar says.
At a time like this, most managers will understand if you let them know in advance that for some portion of the day you will be attending to your children.
“Being perfect is not the goal right now,” says Jill Amery, who works from home and runs the website Urban Mommies. “It’s incredibly important to segment your days so that when you’re with your kids, you’re 100 per cent dedicated to playing with them, interacting with them, engaging with them.”
At other times, parents will need to find ways to get a break from their children. Best to set boundaries and, when desperate, get creative.
“I get distracted easily,” says Warren Orlans, a Toronto-based tax consultant who has three children, ages 15, 13 and 10.
“When my daughter is working on an essay and she wants to read it to me two or three times when I was in the middle of doing something, then I stop doing that and end up doing something else, like checking Twitter,” he says. “I jump from topic to topic and never have the time to really sit and finish up the things I need to finish up.”
Sometimes, he simply needs quiet time. His solution? “I put my headphones on. I don’t even have anything on. I just put the headphones on,” Mr. Orlans says. “I use my hands [to gesture] ‘I can’t hear you.’ I point at my computer and they walk away,” he says.
At least his kids have each other to keep themselves entertained. For parents with only one child, the demands are even greater, especially since playdates are not possible.
“Juggling everything is a lot,” says Sophie Nadeau, who began doing her public relations job from home on Monday while also looking after her eight-year-old daughter.
It’s been difficult, but she knows she is fortunate to be able to work from home when many people, such as those who are in retail, don’t have that privilege, Ms. Nadeau says.
“There was a lot of screen time. There was a lot of [video] business meetings where she was waving at colleagues,” she says.
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