Timely wisdom from a ‘stay-at-home working mom’
The covid-19 pandemic is worrying for us all. I have a sister who is now working as a frontline ER nurse in the epicenter of New York, and our mom has a compromised immune system and works at the international airport in Detroit, Michigan, which means she’s now quarantined at home alone. So I’m the last person to pretend all this is no big deal.
For many people I know, though, worries about the pandemic are made worse by the practical upheavals associated with ‘social distancing’. In particular, people whose working lives revolve around the office are now discovering that ‘working from home’ is not nearly as easy, simple or fun as it sounds! And this is where I can offer some reassurance. And practical advice.
I’ve worked remotely for over a decade. And I have four kids! So I know a thing or two about how to make it work. And thankfully, our company is now taking a proactive approach and allowing every employee to work remotely during the crisis. So I decided to write some tips to help them manage, and in doing so, I realized that my experience and insights could also be beneficial for others. That’s why I’m writing this article.
Of course, I know there are many who can’t work from home, and companies not yet set up for this. Beyond that there are all the frontline workers risking their lives every day, who can’t even spend time with their families. To both of those categories of people, I continue to send positive thoughts and gratitude. You are the heroes our world needs at this time and I thank you.
For everyone else, I want to make a more general point before getting to the nuts and bolts of working from home. Making the change to working remotely might seem like an inconvenience, but it’s also an opportunity to do things better.
I’m sure some of you are going stir crazy at home right now and can’t wait to get back to the office. This is completely understandable, but it’s also the wrong way to think about the situation. We need to accept that we have no control of that, and the fact is that things are not about to get ‘back to normal’ any time soon. And maybe that’s a good thing. Let’s think about #covidopportunities.
Any change is an opportunity to assess the pros and cons of how we did things before, so we don’t simply replicate it as closely as possible without stopping to ask why. Instead, we can work to retain the useful elements, using tools like Skype or Zoom to keep in touch with coworkers and sharing information via email and other software. And at the same time we can drop unhelpful office habits: we all can name a few of those!
For those of us with families, working from home is also an opportunity to reconnect and spend quality time with our kids. People often talk about work-life balance, as if you should only focus on one at a time. I prefer to think in terms of work-life integration. I don’t stop being a mom when I’m working. And I don’t stop being an accountant when I’m cooking for my family (especially during tax season)! Of course, it’s important to make dedicated time for both work and family, but it’s OK to be flexible too.
As professionals, we’re all used to dealing with work emails at home, even on weekends. So there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment in the working day to give a little attention to our kids. That’s why I have a home office open door policy. Often, the worst thing you can do is insist the kids leave you alone – ‘Mommy is working!’ – because it just creates unnecessary conflict, especially when kids are going through a difficult time adjusting themselves.
And a little attention goes a long way. For example, my son walked into the room the other day, and rather than shooing him away, I looked up from my computer, looked him in the eye and acknowledged his presence. He explained that he’d finished what he was doing, so we talked about what he could do next, I told him I loved his enthusiasm, and off he went to work on his assignment for two hours. Win-win, and no drama!
Of course, it’s not always that easy. I have been known to hide in the bathroom to take an important call! But with a little flexibility and a sense of humor, it’s possible to strike the right balance. The key is to set up a system and a routine. I had the good fortune to put those in place in my own time, and develop them over time. Many people now are trying to adapt under conditions of panic and fear, which is far from ideal. So let me share some tips from my own experience.
First of all, where kids are concerned it’s important to have a clear schedule. Your kids are now part of your team, so set age-appropriate chores they can do on a daily and weekly basis. Planning meals on a weekly basis also makes it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle and involve the kids.
Being flexible about time is all the more reason to have a dedicated workspace to help get you in the zone for work. If there are two of you working from home, it’s important to coordinate your schedules so you can make the best use of shared spaces and divide up other responsibilities efficiently. Another little thing: if other family members are connected to the same Wi-Fi, consider tethering to your phone for a better connection.
It’s just as important to take breaks when working from home, and those are another opportunity for family time. Have lunch together, go for a walk or even a car ride to listen to music or audiobooks with your family. Personal time is also vital. For me, yoga is a great way to keep calm and grounded. If you don’t have something like that, now is a great time to start, and learning something new has been scientifically proven to add joy to your life.
I know many people reading this will have had a tough few days. Adjusting to change at a time of heightened anxiety is no easy task. But my experience is that there are many advantages to working from home. So this crisis is also an opportunity to do things better, to use technology creatively and above all to change our mindsets: “We are not stuck at home, we are safe at home”.
If one good thing can come out of this pandemic, let’s make it a smarter and healthier way of working and living. I look forward to sharing more ideas and experiences in the weeks ahead, such as setting up systems, using technology more efficiently, work-life integration, healthy habits and opportunities for virtual globalization to name a few. To that end, I’d love to hear how you are managing, and what lessons you’ve learned and inspirations you have gained so far. So let’s come together with our ideas through our shares and comments. What are your #covidopportunities?
May you stay healthy.