Like many others, I’m learning what it’s like to work from home with a child in tow. Overnight, lots of us have found ourselves with three full-time jobs: parent, teacher, and the job we’re paid to do. I’ll be honest, I’ve found it overwhelming – and as I write this, my daughter is under my desk, howling that she’s bored.
I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues in the same position, and some have been juggling childcare, homeschooling, and work for a while. So I reached out and asked for help. Here’s what I’ve learned. I hope it will help you too.
Accept that you can’t work at full capacity
One message came through loud and clear: You are one person, and it’s simply impossible to do three full-time jobs. Even if you’re managing between two people, that’s an awful lot to ask. And, with everything that’s going on at the moment, it’s completely understandable that you’re distracted too.
Be honest with yourself and your boss. Ask whether it’s possible to work flexible hours, or to focus on less concentration-intensive tasks or projects. We’re slowing down here so that folks can manage their workloads around other commitments and put their families and mental health first.
Remember: Kids don’t get 7 hours of teaching a day at school
When it comes to homeschooling, I’m just going to hand over to Sara, one of our founders. She keeps 1Password running while homeschooling her kids, so as far as I’m concerned, she’s the source of truth on the matter.
She reassured me: “With homeschooling, the biggest panic right now is this idea that kids spend a good seven hours at school learning, and they need proper lessons. Nope! They spend a lot of time just waiting to have their turn, washing hands, going outside, doing all kinds of things.
“Really, learning time is maybe an hour or two a day. Knowing that makes it easier to remember that TV isn’t always bad – teachers use it too when kids are noisy. Having a favourite show ready when you’re about to have a call is a great tool! Magic School Bus, Dora, Cosmos… whatever floats your kids’ boat”.
Tip: Learning doesn’t always mean conventional schoolwork. Encourage kids to go looking for bugs outside, make busses out of cereal boxes, or build a castle out of Legos. It gets them out of your hair and means they’re learning things they might not at school.
Have a schedule but be flexible
Lots of parents here swear by having a schedule for the day. It gives kids a bit of structure, and helps you plan in time to focus.
Here’s a daily schedule that Megs, who works on our Design team, shared with me:
- 6 a.m. Wake up and have breakfast (both parents)
- 7–11 a.m. Parent A works, parent B plays
- 11 a.m.–12 p.m. Lunch and naptime (both parents there to cook and yell at small ones to lie down)
- 1–4 p.m. Parent B works, parent A cleans and does extra work (if naptime happens) and plays
- 4 p.m. Educational TV or chilled play while one parent cooks
“Splitting responsibility has always been important in our home, and now with the kids home full time, it’s become a crucial tool to help us maintain our sanity.
“Our kids are 3 and 1, and demand a lot of attention. My partner and I are each working half a day and parenting for the other half. We’re so lucky that our jobs have been flexible and understanding of our needs, and it’s been really great to be able to tag-team parenting this way”.
I’m on my own with my daughter for most of the day, so swapping in and out isn’t an option. Even so, I have found that putting together a rough outline of her day helps move her from one activity to the next. Admittedly, 9 times out of 10, it goes completely out of the window, but having a few activities lined up means I can throw something new at her when she gets bored. Even if that’s just an educational video or box of art supplies.
Make the most of technology
How much children should use technology, and what they should use it for, can be a prickly topic for parents. But, if you’re comfortable with it, now is the time to embrace the educational value of technology. Don’t be afraid to lean on TV, iPads, and trusted streaming services if you need to. This is an unprecedented situation, and if technology allows you to be productive while your kid is learning, then as far as I’m concerned it’s a win-win.
Coding apps like ScratchJnr and Tynker teach kids invaluable skills (ScratchJnr is used in schools), and can keep them occupied while you take a call. Our “school days” have meant morning exercise with Joe Wicks live on YouTube, learning a language with Duolingo, and listening to David Walliams audiobooks (they’re free for the next month).
Tip: If your child has lessons or activities outside of school, check whether your provider is offering a virtual alternative. My daughter is taking her usual ukulele and Karate lessons every week by video call. I can’t wait to hear what 10 5-year-olds playing the ukulele over video chat sounds like.
You’re not alone
Don’t worry if you need to jump off a call because your kid needs you, or if they make a quick cameo during the morning standup. Your colleagues will understand, and most folks tell me they love that small insight into each other’s lives.
Talk to your colleagues about your kids and share your funny stories. They do want to listen, and we’ve found that other team members are keen to help by working around parents’ schedules or by shuffling tasks around.
Tip: Will, our Design and Web Lead, suggests trying a closed-door policy. “When the door is closed, it means I’m on a call and that the kids should be quiet and not come in. It took some time to get working, but it now works great. Once, during an interview, I had to go to the basement as my kids were being loud and my wife was ill – I nearly got away with it too until someone flushed the toilet and the water pipe was right next to me”.
Often, it’s these human moments that help build lasting connections with our colleagues.
Embrace the interruptions
Once you’ve accepted that interruptions will happen, you might find they become a source of joy, rather than stress. Stop and listen to your child’s explanation of the space cafe they’ve just built in your living room, watch the dance routine they’ve just made up, and talk to them about their day. This is all pretty weird for them too, and you’ll enjoy moments you might usually miss out on while they’re at school.
Lynette, who works in Customer Success, put it beautifully: “The best part is being able to watch my daughter learn, and spending so much time with her. She watches these videos about singing and dancing, and sometimes her mood completely changes. I just hear her singing along. Also, I love getting hugs throughout the day. I’ll be in a meeting and she’ll just come up and hug me, and go back to what she was doing. It’s the best”.
Above all, be kind to yourself
This situation is new to all of us. Things won’t go as planned every day, or maybe ever. And that’s okay – we’re all doing our best. Learn and adjust as you go, and when it all goes out of the window (which it will), try to laugh about it. Embrace the absurdity of it, and share the joy and the humour with your colleagues – we could all use a lift right now.