When school resumed in the fall, working parents knew that our already-delicate work/life balance would be tested. However, I don’t think any of us could have prepared ourselves for how hard it’s really been.
As someone who works with hiring companies and jobseekers, I remember the simpler times when a “flexible” work environment meant WFH Fridays and being able to leave early for a parent-teacher conference. Now, as a parent working from home with a full-time remote first grader, flexibility has taken on a whole new meaning.
Here are a few ideas to consider as we do our best to make the time when we are working, work—for our teams and ourselves.
Overcommunicate your availability to your team and manager.
School schedules often vary by town. Your town might send kids to school two days a week. Another might alternate between one week remote and one week in school. Your coworkers and manager could easily assume that the days your kids are home aren’t your “good” days. But maybe you have help when they’re home? Maybe their school Zoom schedules mean that your mornings are free to work?
Be sure you’re communicating your availability to everyone you work with so there are no misconceptions about when you’re working and when you’re not. If you don’t fill in the gaps, others will. And as you’re communicating, know (and make it known) that you’ll go back with any updates as things with school are in perpetual flux.
Take the way you’re used to working…and throw it out the window.
That might be slightly dramatic, but it’s closer to the truth than it isn’t. Sure, there are still some examples of normalcy in your work. You might still attend your standing company meetings. Answer emails in a timely manner. But, if you have long-form work or anything that requires uninterrupted periods of time, that tidy, super productive chunk of time between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm likely looks very different right now.
Speaking personally, this may have been the hardest transition for me. Thinking you’ll have a specific window of time to tackle certain projects, and then having it all implode because something unforeseen has happened with your 6-year-old is…challenging. And then the panic sets in that your window of time is lost; and you have no idea how or when you’ll get it back.
I’m doing my best to accept that if something comes up, my work has to shift, often to evenings. And in this crazy time, it’s actually taken some of the pressure off. I don’t think any of us want to work like this forever, but this type of fluidity might be the least painful option right now.
Remember to check on your teammates who don’t have kids.
Are the first five minutes of your company’s conference calls recapping the horror du jour of remote school? Is an inordinate amount of time spent lamenting first-grade technology glitches or the impossible expectation of being your nine-year-old’s parent and tutor? There is nothing wrong with any of this. However, in the midst of our venting, we need to recognize that we have coworkers who may not be parents, but are also experiencing a pandemic and challenges of their own. This isn’t to say we should shut down the free parent support group at work. (I wouldn’t be able to survive without it.) We just need to remember to also ask our 24-year-old coworker, “How are things with you?”
Be honest about what you can and can’t do.
Most every client I’ve spoken with is leading with empathy when it comes to employees. That is certainly a silver lining of this time. A fair employer will appreciate honesty right now. Rather than ignore or downplay the impact school is having on your work/life, be transparent about when you’re working, how you’re getting it all done, and any circumstances that you may be struggling to manage. You’re not asking your employer to lower their expectations, but you are asking if they can adjust them.