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It probably goes without saying that it is far more difficult for parents to work from home when children are around and with no where to hide, especially when their schooling is thrown into the mix! In this Q&A we look at some tips for employees to help them survive the 'double duty' as well as some advice for their leaders. 

Before COVID-19, working from home was a chance to supercharge productivity without distraction and focus on a complex task away from office noise. The secret to this success was we only had a single duty – to work.

Fast forward to a world where dining rooms have been turned into communal work spaces and lounge rooms have become classrooms, working from home is now more of a challenge than a privilege.  Employees with children are facing the daunting task of the ‘double duty’ by balancing their daily work routines with supervising home schooling and keeping kids on task and off of PlayStation.

Perhaps the person who first showed us the real challenge of working from home with children was Robert Kelly, who became famous in 2017 when his two young children unexpectedly entered his home office during a live television broadcast with the BBC. This humorous example showed us that there is a big difference between working remotely in a quiet empty house, to doing so in a household with children and pets that are guaranteed to distract us at the most inopportune time. 

These are unprecedented times and without question there are real challenges facing both employees and employers in surviving the ‘double duty’, but with some lateral thinking we can hopefully find a more effective balance between children and work. Here are some tips for employees working at home with the kids and their leaders:

Tips for employees to survive the ‘double duty’

Get creative with work hours

  • Set flexible working hours to best balance everyone’s needs
  • Consider starting your day with an early morning work session to get done some key tasks before the school day officially starts
  • Schedule an evening work slot to take the pressure off during the day
  • If there is another adult in the house, draw up a roster to share the supervision load.

Set the routine 

  • Use a poster or whiteboard to help children to see what their day involves and the work/play rhythm 
  • Set boundaries to help children understand times when they can ask questions and when they need to wait 
  • Take your lunch break when the children do
  • Run through some common simulations with the children so they understand and know how you want them to respond when you can’t be interrupted (e.g. important conference call) 
  • Be close enough to monitor the children, but not so close that it is easy for them to continually interrupt.

Communicate your routine 

  • Communicate with the children at the beginning of each day what your schedule looks like
  • Be upfront about the risk of interruption when you need to participate in a video call
  • Share your concerns with your leader and be honest about your challenges – they might be experiencing the same thing!

Balance the workload 

  • Save the important tasks for when the chances of interruption are low and do the lower level tasks such as checking emails when the chances are higher
  • If it doesn’t have to be done at the desk or shared work space – get up and find a quiet space. Have the conference call in the back garden or read the report in a comfy chair
  • Be realistic about what can be accomplished. Acknowledge that you may get less done than usual – but it doesn’t mean that you will be unproductive.

Plan ahead 

  • Apply careful planning to avoid leaving tasks to the last minute.  Allow extra time when creating deadlines for yourself or others to avoid unnecessary pressure.
  • Be aware of procrastination and seek to make the most out of every work block
  • Plan to complete the complex tasks before the easier ones
  • Organise your day to maximise work output with your energy levels. It is hard to interpret lengthy reports after supervising children and co working.

Look for the positive

  • Be grateful for being able to save travel time and costs and find the positive in seeing your child’s progress first hand
  • Look for the positive behaviours the children show when you are working.  Recognise the behaviour and consider rewarding it (e.g. family game after dinner, extra TV time etc).
  • Celebrate what is working well instead of focusing on the negative.

Tips for employers when they have employees dealing with the ‘double duty’

Be flexible 

  • Be patient and understand that this is not an ideal time for anyone 
  • Be flexible to adapt to a different work schedule 
  • Be open to the employee wanting or needing to work different hours 
  • Try to avoid unannounced work calls as that can add stress.

Keep communication open 

  • Communicate with your employee that you understand it is challenging and you want to support them any way that you can
  • Ask team members what time of the day best works for them to have team meetings or one on one catch ups. 
  • Ensure that work requests are clear and employees have an adequate time to respond.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

  • This isn’t an ideal situation and most employees would prefer that their lounge room did not double as a classroom. Acknowledge the challenge and support the employee.
  • Focus on the bigger picture and core output rather than smaller tasks
  • Understand that some deadlines may need some flexibility
  • Remember the skills and behaviours of the employee in the office environment and be patient whilst they adjust.

You are in this together 

  • Share your concerns and hurdles with the employee and give them a chance to tweak their new environment
  • Openly discuss your own challenges with the ‘double duty’
  • Consider arranging a team video call where employees can introduce their children. Personalising the situation helps to bring empathy and enhance the team bond.

Balancing the ‘double duty’ is a challenge that should be shared by employees and employers.  Arguably over the next few months we will get to know more about our co workers by being further apart.  

Video conferencing will reveal an interesting and sometimes comedic insight into each other’s lives.  Laundry piles, barking dogs and arguing children may challenge the professional norm, however these are real insights and should be embraced.

Further assistance

Members can contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for assistance with their workplace matters. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources

Ai Group is continually publishing new COVID-19 advice and resources for employers:

  • Specific HR Resource Centre and Health & Safety Resource Centre content to assist members during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.
  • Dedicated COVID-19 member advice, industry news, resources and latest information can be found here
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