Whether you're a WFH newbie or regular remote worker, here are our top tips on staying productive at home with the kids around (we're looking at you, BBC Dad!).
Covid-19 has completely changed the landscape of our lives. People hoarded toilet rolls, hand sanitiser did a roaring trade on the black market, and social distancing is officially the new normal. And, in light of that, we’re all working remotely more than ever. But with many children now out of school and back to home-based-learning, how are we supposed to work from home… with kids? Hitting tight deadlines, attending video conferences and maintaining focus are some of the key challenges we’re facing. But it IS possible – and it can also be really productive.
Working from home with kids around – why it’s the new norm
18 months on since Covid-19 struck, Singapore’s Ministry of Health recently announced the return of certain restrictions to curb the number of community infections. From now till 24 October 2021, working from home is the default once again. That includes implementing remote working and video conferencing rather than face-to-face meetings. MOH has also advised employers to suspend cross-deployment and social gatherings at the workplace. For those who need to be in the office, testing negative via an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) and staggering work hours are encouraged.
Most schools have also moved back into home-based learning, and for those schools that still remain open, many parents are choosing to voluntarily remove their children and keep them at home until the outbreak quietens down a little (no mum shame here either way from us: you do you, we say). According to UNESCO, 163 countries closed schools nationwide at the height of the pandemic, impacting over 1.21 billion young people.
Yep, thanks to Covid-19, it’s become the new normal for us to be working remotely alongside our small humans.
Remote working as a parent: is it possible?
Remember the 2017 viral footage of ‘BBC Dad’? We enjoyed all the LOLs when we watched the clip of Robert Kelly, an American academic and expert on Korean relations, conduct a video interview with the BBC. Mid-convo, his toddler daughter sashays into his study (with impressive swagger, might we add), before his baby son follows suit in his walker… closely tailed by his panicked wife! Funny as it was, it was just one case of how real-life continues on in the background of (and sometimes adds a whole heap of challenges to) your career. BBC Dad may have been mortified at the time, but we can totally relate on so many levels!
There are absolutely challenges with an at-home office if it’s not your norm (thanks, Coronavirus), and of course, it totally depends on what you do day-to-day to earn your crust, as well as your personal circumstances. It’s especially hard if you don’t have relatives or support – don’t take for granted how lucky many of us are here in Singapore to have helpers, or foreign domestic workers. It certainly makes it a helluva lot easier to go about our nine-to-five! Regardless of your set-up at home, here are some top tips for keeping productivity going.
6 effective ways to work from home with kids (and stay productive!)
1. Get a workspace set up
Make sure you have a dedicated space at home to work from. While your bed makes for comfy Netflix binge viewing or online shopping, it isn’t a great set-up for working from home. Hello, RSI! If you’ve got a spare room or study, use it. Otherwise, get creative with your space and ensure some distance from the kids.
Metro in the UK published a piece with some rather humorous examples of how people have adapted to working from home with kids in the current climate. Definitely worth a look! We’re particularly impressed with this height-adjustable ‘workstation’…
I’m lucky enough to have a height-adjustable workstation at home… pic.twitter.com/a4CqgGoIhO
— Life in Capitals (@lifeincapitals) March 13, 2020
2. Do shifts with your partner if they’re also working from home
Is your partner working from home with kids around too? If you don’t have any help at home, divide the responsibility around your work commitments and take turns. If one of you has an important phone or video meeting, make sure the other person takes on parental duties to minimise disruption. (And make use of the mute button so your colleagues don’t have to hear your kids yell, “I’m just done a poop!”)
3. Set boundaries with your kids
This one’s a lot easier with older children, who you can at least reason with. The separate working space is a great starting point. You can go one further by hanging signs on the door when you’re on an important call so the kids know not to disturb you (unless, you know, the house is on fire or something). You could do green and red signs on the door, or a no-entry hanger on the door handle – let your imagination run wild!
Also, go easy on yourself. This whole Coronavirus situation is (hopefully) a temporary thing, so if there needs to be more screen time, let it go. There are some great educational TV shows, YouTube channels and apps out there to keep their grey matter working!
4. Get organised with your tasks
Your workspace is all set up and you’ve drawn up clear boundaries with everyone living with you. Great, now it’s time for you to get organised! Each day, create a task list of the things that require your attention. You can do that by writing them down or using apps such as Trello or Asana. Whichever works for you!
When it comes to organising your tasks, here’s what we recommend: start off with tasks that require the heaviest lifting. This could be writing a new article or anything that’s mentally challenging. As you approach midday, get into tasks with moderate mental effort, such as responding to emails. Handle the mindless tasks, like cleaning your email inbox or organising your desktop, at the end of the day.
5. Take regular breaks
This is important, regardless of if you have kids at home or not – heck, regardless of you being home in the first place! Keep moving, give your eyes a rest and go drink some water. Having regular breaks will actually help you stay productive and focused.
Strict schedules will also really help every member of the household. Try and replicate your normal routine as much as possible, and also make use of any nap times in your household. We don’t mean you sleeping, sadly; if you have a toddler who has a lunchtime sleep, use that quiet time for meetings or high-focus tasks where you won’t be disturbed.
6. Keep communicating
In a 2019 survey of more than 7,300 workers by FlexJobs, 65 per cent of respondents said they’re more productive working from home, due to fewer interruptions from colleagues, minimal office politics and reduced stress from commuting. However, loneliness can also be a factor – another study found it was the second-most reported challenge with remote workers.
Ensure you have regular check-ins with your boss and colleagues via phone or video; whatever works best for you. Perhaps touch base on video at the start and end of business hours, then message and email throughout the day. Regular communication will help you stay on track and keep some sense of normality… and seeing familiar faces helps your sanity, too! There are so many tools out there to help you stay productive while remote working. And it goes without saying: be understanding of people’s circumstances, and they will return the kindness too.
Go easy on yourself, be agile and know that (hopefully) this isn’t forever. One day at a time, folks!