Working full time while raising kids was already one of the great everyday challenges of modern life. But as the effects of the pandemic have spread to every aspect of our lives, that task has just become amplified for many people.
In order to stay safe, a lot of companies are having employees perform their jobs from home. Similarly, many schools have shut down the traditional classroom setup and offered students the option of online learning.
Taken together, these factors tend to more or less triple our burden. We are parents, workers, and teachers now. And where those functions could formerly be fulfilled in separate segments over the course of one day, they now have to be compressed. They overlap all the time.
The logical approach would be to try and keep things separate. As much as possible, you establish boundaries in order to maintain your productivity (and sanity).
Set a schedule, and stick to it. This begins with work. Colleagues and bosses must know that outside of work hours, it’s not okay to communicate or expect a response. That imposes on your personal time.
It also extends, within reason, to other members of the household. Of course, one of the perks of remote work is getting to spend more time with your family. But you have to manage interruptions and distractions during your official working hours. Otherwise, you wind up becoming unproductive and stressing out about it.
Physical separation isn’t necessary, but it helps to have a dedicated home office, complete with VoIP phone systems, task lighting, and ergonomic furniture. You create a dedicated environment that allows you to really focus on work, wrap up tasks quickly, and enjoy the much-touted work-life balance telecommuting offers.
A new approach
Compartmentalization works for most people. It keeps things grounded in the familiar. People somehow managed to keep things together back when you had to show up for work at an actual office after dropping the kids off at school or daycare. You have to push for those distinctions to persist, otherwise, they get eroded day by day.
But is this really the best way to handle an entirely new state of affairs?
Consider that this triple expectation of working, parenting, and teaching has never been the norm in years past. It’s certainly never been this intense. Parents have always fulfilled a little of each role, but they’ve also had plenty of help from the extended family, or from paid educators.
In the face of disruption, most people don’t just try to survive. They seek to do so with minimal adjustment to the lifestyles they’ve grown accustomed to. Yet when the nature of those changes is as drastic as what the pandemic has enforced upon us, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our entire approach as well.
If the new demands of living require us to merge parenting, teaching, and employment on a daily basis, we can adapt by doing more than just aiming to get by. We can try to gain from the situation.
Where do these duties overlap? One place to look for inspiration is the occasion when many workplaces celebrate “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” This offers actual examples of real-life, pre-pandemic events during which people bring kids to the office and show them around a day in Mom or Dad’s life.
At cloud-management company Cloudreach, organizer Katie Doerr recounts her experiences with a successful initiative to set up a virtual event of this nature. Their remote team collaborates across 6 different time zones and 19 locations throughout the world, making for a difficult challenge. And they had to factor in age differences among the children who would be attending.
Yet they were able to make the whole event a great interactive success. By leveraging different platforms and activities, they made things interesting for kids over and under 10 years. In the process, parents were even able to show off some of their coding skills.
Of course, hosting a one-off event is different from doing it on a daily basis. But the takeaway is that you can pull off some of these elements consistently.
Sometimes, teaching your child doesn’t have to involve what’s in the lesson plan their remote instructor outlined. It can be showing them how you do your job, applying 21st-century skills, managing your time, and interacting with others in a professional setting.
Storytelling doesn’t have to mean reading out of a children’s book. It could mean telling them more about your tasks at work, and how doing what’s on your screen affects the lives of others.
Blur those boundaries, and you can present your child with an opportunity to learn about the world, under your guidance, that wouldn’t have been available in years past. It’s one way to actually gain from this new reality we’re facing.