working from home as a parent.

06/04/2020

I’m sitting outside on a chair with my laptop, watching my 3 year old jump on a trampoline, singing ‘Let it Go’ over and over again. My husband kept her occupied all morning, now he needs to get work done. I’ve worked the odd day at home with my daughter around but now this is my new normal.

With so many people working from home and trying to continue with “business as usual,” there are other factors to consider - whether it's barking dogs, cats that like to sit on your keyboard or a inquisitive 3 year old daughter, our BAU is starting to change. I reached out to some of my connections and colleagues for advice, and I want to share their tips and thoughts.

Paul Zauch, Commercial Development Director Randstad Sourceright

what works for you?

Finding the kids projects. I love coffee. I have a daughter who loves making me coffee but she doesn't do it well. Every morning I give her a tute on making an espresso and every afternoon she has a go herself when I am looking for my 2pm fix. She is improving and we are growing closer over the smallest thing. She is also thinking about becoming a teacher, so next week she’s helping me virtual babysit the Randstad Sourceright team's kids!

My oldest daughter loves to cook, as do I. She is picking recipes that we can cook together, and in the last week we’ve already made eggplant parmigiana and ratatouille. We are eating more veggies than ever before and, I hope, building memories with each other.  

2 of my kids also love Lego. I’m thinking this is finally my excuse to buy the Millennium Falcon and build it with them without any guilt whatsoever.

what will you do if you have to work with children at home?

It is what it is. I'm an early starter. I try to have 2 hours of solid work done before the girls - I've 3 daughters, 13, 11, 8 - get up. That way I can be more present for little junctures throughout the day without feeling guilt or pressure.

We also have a newly instigated rule after I read an article by a submariner on staying sane in a submarine which said cleanliness and quiet alone-time (non work) are important. At 2pm every afternoon, the girls straighten up the house for 20 minutes, then have 40 minutes of reading or non-tech reflection/meditation in their rooms. The silence allows us to do some serious work and it also resets the house if things are getting a little ratty.

I joke with the girls that the hour was the idea of the great Australian philosopher John Farnham and it is intended to "take the pressure down.” My 13 year claims this is one of my lamest dad jokes! I feel it is one of my best.

what hasn't worked for you?

There is no point putting heat into an already tense situation. I am trying to respond, not react. Also, don't feed an 8 year old too much Nutella. Chaos!

how are you keeping them and yourself happy?

You need to think ‘big picture’ here to keep perspective and you have to make the best of this situation. You need to be calm and engaged - there is no telling what is going on in our kid's minds at the moment. They need us to be strong and consistent. Right now is when parents are really going to "earn their money" - I am seeing it as a once in a lifetime challenge and opportunity.

Suzanne Gavrilovic, Senior HR Consultant MWAH

what works for you?

Staying connected with the team. Being able to be honest about competing priorities. I am concerned about my daughter, who is essentially a single parent, who will need to see the progress of two kids at home (7 and 5), while staying sane.

what will you do if you have to work with children at home?

I will have to help my daughter out. I don’t work Fridays, so it’s a no-brainer for me to have her children then, but  I may try Thursdays as well to give her two clear days to work. If they are out of school all together, my mother may actually help as well. It will be different when we add the children into the mix and we will just have to do the best we can. The reality is we won’t be working a 9-5 day. We will have to get work done in and around everything else!

Sally Woolford, Business Director MWAH

what works for you?

I have an almost-8 year old who has some learning difficulties; what will work for us personally is flexibility and support networks. Having a flexible employer who totally gets that a working day is going to be very different is key right now. Having friends and colleagues connect and check in with each other is great and really needed.

what will you do if you have to work with children at home?

I suspect my working day will extend to start early and finish late with lots of interruptions in between, while also ensuring that I am supporting learning for my son. I’ve been compiling lots of learning activities but we will also be heading outside (we live remotely in the Adelaide hills) and learning through hands-on experience. Juggling will be key but so will ensuring that we keep a sense of normality and calmness in our household. I will be sharing what my day is going to look like with colleagues so they know what to expect. 

Rhonda Brighton-Hall, Founder/CEO MWAH

what works for you?

My kids are 21 and 23, so they’re usually out and about and away, but they’re coming home to bunker down together. It’s scary times, so we want to be together. What does work for us? Respect and treating everyone as an equal. We’re in this together.

what will you do if you have to have children at home and work?

Have a family meeting and talk about who’s bunkering down here, what works for everyone, and how to give enough space. The first few days have been fun, but 624 days (I did the maths for 6 months) in a row might see the novelty wearing thin. You can only talk about work or Survivor for so long.

adult children may seem easier, but what do you need to consider when you could have 4 or 5 people working from home at the same time?

Yep! We’re there, and it’s noisy. If we move to the dining room or the living room or the kitchen, it makes that room into a work space, and we don’t want to turn ‘our home’ into ‘the office.’ It's about making free space that isn’t covered in work. We’re still finding a balance, but the rules already are “you can’t have your own room and another permanent room.” We each have our ‘home office’ space and then everything else is activity based working.

what hasn't worked for you?

Asking other people to be quiet. If you need quiet, you have to find the quiet space and not try to create a quiet house.

Lija Wilson, Founder Puffling

what works for you?

You really need to shift your mindset, sending emails in your pj’s or still wearing your morning gym gear isn’t the right way to start. I use a 2 coffee cup rule, one for work and one for outside of work. This helps keep yourself in whatever mindset you should be in. I make sure I write a to-do list before I open my  laptop so I know what the day needs to look like and avoid distractions.

tips from Parents at Work:

  • Get creative to get the time you need. Although flexibility is definitely needed, sometimes there are tasks you simply have to get done. Setting children up prior is the key to everyone’s success. Creative ideas like boredom boxes (filled with crafts, play-dough, etc.) or activity sheets for older children can provide entertainment. Ensure children have access to food and drink to limit interruptions. Making TV or iPad time a treat to save until you desperately need a distraction for them will help too.
  • Manage work communication. A major part of staying connected will be conducting work meetings via teleconference, Zoom, or the like. This can be tricky with house-bound children in the background but there are steps you can take to limit distraction. For school-aged kids, explain to them prior to the call that you aren’t to be disturbed and give the option of writing notes in an emergency. For younger ones, scheduling calls over nap time or screen time can mean you have some quiet.
  • Children do better when they can see you. It can be tempting to close doors, but this can trigger them into calling out, banging on doors or complaining that they need something urgently. Remember that this unusual situation means we’re all in the same boat – so if you do get interrupted, don’t sweat it, solve the issue, and carry on as before.

Check out Parents at Work for more tips.

We have to take the rough with the smooth, and if that includes me sending emails while sitting on the grass, wondering if it’s too early to get my 3 year old singing lessons then so be it. I’m secretly hoping Bluey releases an hour-long episode on isolation just so I know how to parent.

Thanks to, Paul Zauch, Commercial Development Director at Randstad Sourceright; Suzanne Gavrilovic, Senior HR Consultant at MWAH; Sally Woolford, Business Director at MWAH; Rhonda Brighton-Hall, Founder/CEO of MWAH and Lija Wilson, Founder of Puffling.

Kerry McQuillan

General Manager - Diversity & Inclusion