After announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron, messages about working from home with children started flooding in on my social media (WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram).
France has gone a long way in terms of telecommuting over the last three years, but the culture of presenteeism is still going strong. There’s room for improvement in that field, but this health crisis will probably speed things up.
Working from home when you have children is still taboo. Already, lots of managers are resistant to telecommuting, so working from home with children around?
Forget about it… Preconceived ideas inevitably reappear. The employer thinks employees are going to be doing laundry, cooking, taking care of their children… No way serious work can be done in those conditions… As for the employee, especially if they’re a woman, they tend to think they’ve already insisted on taking maternity leave once more, that they’ve already taken all their sick leaves when their kids have stomach bugs or the flu, so if they have to work from home with their kids around, for sure they’ll be sidelined, and probably won’t get any bonuses in 2020…
I – SEVEN GAME-CHANGING RESOLUTIONS
If, like me, you have very young children (7 years old for the eldest and 2-year-old twins), truth is, you’re often as tired on a Sunday night as on any other night of the week. Taking care of the kids full time might prove physically and emotionally exhausting. So when nurseries and schools shut down, you quickly start to panic at the idea of spending several weeks with your children while having to work.
So let’s take a deep breath, put things into perspective and make the right decisions:
1. SET YOUR WORKING HOURS
Set working hours adapted to your children’s rhythm. You can start as soon as 7a.m, by answering your emails while your kids are sleeping or eating breakfast. More demanding tasks can be done at naptime or when they’re playing in their room. I am a big fan of the 9-11 p.m. period – I can stop working at 5 p.m. and get back to it when the kids are in bed. In short, figure it out according to you and the ages of your children.
2. SET UP YOUR WORK STATION
Try to set up your own space in the kitchen or in your room if you don’t have an office and if your children don’t need supervision. If you need to keep an eye on them, the living-room table will do the job.
3. ESTABLISH CLEAR RULES
Do not mix work and chores. The dishes and the laundry will have to wait till the end of the day. If you take care of work, the kids and housework at once, you won’t make it alive.
4. GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED
Warn them and explain the situation to them, whatever their age (children understand everything): “This is an exceptional situation, mum and dad have to work so you have to listen and stay calm, especially if we’re on the phone.” It doesn’t always work, but at least the child knows what the situation is.
5. PLAN THE KIDS’ DAY AS WELL
Make a daily schedule of activities for your children and go over it with them in the morning. If they know what their day looks like, they will be more autonomous and less demanding while you’re working.
6. TAKE BREAKS
Everybody’s going in circles and losing their calm? Time to take a break. Go out and take a walk if you don’t have a garden or a balcony (making sure to respect hygiene and safety rules, of course!). If you don’t feel like going out, improvise a family meditation session (apps such as Calm or Petit Bambou may come in handy).
7. STOP FEELING GUILTY!!!
This is a crisis, so we’re all doing the best we can: it’s not the end of the world if your children just sit and watch Peter Pan so that you can get some work done
So let’s find the right state of mind and get organized – we’re all in the same boat, and not just women.
II- LET’S CHANGE OUR STATE OF MIND!
With over ten years of experience working from home and managing HR teams on a global scale, I can testify that combining work and kids at home is possible. Especially if everyone is in the same state of mind.
In the Anglo-Dutch company I used to work for, telecommuting culture was widespread for organizational reasons (teams scattered all over the world), logistical ones (fewer desks available, more homeworkers), and quality of life purposes (the balance between private and professional life being more important in the Netherlands than in France). When I first started to work in an international team, I was shocked to hear children in the background during conference calls. Even more so when one morning, in the middle of a conference call with colleagues from London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, one manager (An HR Vice President ) said, “Sorry, I’m off for 20 minutes, I’m taking the kids to school.” I thought to myself, “She’s got a nerve…” Then, the more I was confronted with similar situations that seemed to raise no one’s eyebrows but mine, the more I realized the unconscious bias I had been developing in our good old French way of working.
Eventually, I got used to this new way of doing things just fine. Men and women alike, we were all working from home for different reasons (schedule constraints, office management policy, personal choices of not working on Wednesday in order to take care of the kids), which made us understanding with each other. After a while, I’ve stopped paying attention to dogs barking or children crying in the background.
I also remember a Malaysian colleague of mine who was breastfeeding during a video conference because it was 8PM over there and it was the only time slot available for her to get together with her European co-workers. No one said anything because, well, she did join us after all.
So, working from home with kids around is something that I have done quite often. It’s true that it is not always easy, but it’s manageable, especially when everyone knows everyone else’s obligations and that those obligations are (finally) shared.
III- APPLYING SIMPLE RULES
In order to make it work with your company and your co-workers, a few simple rules must be applied:
1. Do not hesitate to ask for help
If you have a partner, there are two of you. It doesn’t have to be mum that stays home alone with the children and working. It’s the two of you, you’re the “parental team”, taking turns depending on work urgencies. Single parents should try asking family and friends for help watching their kids. Times of crisis require organized solidarity!
2. Tell it how it is
Tell your co-workers that you’re working from home with X children of such and such ages, so conference calls cannot happen over lunch and snack times (Remember: exceptional situation, exceptional working methods).
3. Show your hand
You’re on a conference call and children are in the room? Say so at the beginning of the meeting: I’m home so don’t pay attention to background noises or if I have to leave for a minute if my eldest is strangling his brother.
Indeed, this is a difficult situation and each and every one of us will have to adapt according to the age of their child.
But we are fortunate to have at hand all the technology we need to organize ourselves and stay in touch with our customers, co-workers and suppliers. Also, the health of our elders, our children and our own must remain our top priority.
So, let’s take a step back from this situation which will ultimately strengthen family bonds and, I’m sure, promote telecommuting in the future!
Founder of Soft Kids