As the global coronavirus pandemic makes the year mark, more and more people are adjusting to the realities of long term work from home. Some companies have found their employees are just as, or more productive than they were coming into the office every day. CNN10 talked with Twitter’s Chief HR officer, Jennifer Christie, who said 80% of employees were in the office 4-5 days a week before the pandemic, and that’s flipped in the last year, where that many employees want to be fully remote.

At DrupalCon Europe 2020, Jorge Tutor gave a talk on Self-Management in remote environments, which touched on many ways to help keep yourself productive through the ongoing crisis. Even though an end is in sight, many of us still have months ahead of working from home, or very intermittent office presence - if we go back at all. Tag1 Consulting is a fully remote company, with staff all over the world. While we are, as a team, used to working at a distance and at different hours from each other, those of us who have children are still making many of the same adjustments that ‘always in the office’ people are making - how do we stay productive with our kids around all the time?

What do I do with my kids?

Even with the recent availability of vaccines, we don’t really know how long it will take to achieve a level of immunity where our lives can go back to ‘normal’. Even then, the available vaccines are indicated for adults. It may be many months before children can return to school with minimal risk.

While normally, even full time work remotely folks have our techniques for keeping productive - things like:

  • Keeping a list of tasks
  • Using the Pomodoro or other time blocking methods
  • Creating boundaries between work time and personal time
  • Understanding what parts of the day are our most and least productive and adjusting our work accordingly

these techniques can go out the window when there are kids in the mix. They’re scared and confused and just having a tough time. It’s hard for us to be productive when they’re not engaged.

“Kids do well if they can.” - Dr. Ross Greene

As parents, it’s easier for us to do well when our kids are doing well. Here are a few suggestions from the parents here at Tag1, that work for our families, because it’s impossible to do multiple jobs and do them all well because we’re spreading ourselves too thin.

School at home/Homeschooling + Working:

One of the biggest challenges, even for families like us who are fortunate enough to have a parent at home, is the struggle to not only occupy our children while we try to work, but to try to ensure they are getting the education they need and deserve. School doesn’t look like what we’re used to for anyone - the now-traditional brick and mortar schools or homeschoolers. The adjustment has been tough for kids and parents alike.

Get good at asking your co-workers, your partners, or relatives for the support you need. This might be an extra day off, patience because you’re in a grumpy mood after dealing with a kid’s tantrum, for a coworker to cover a meeting for you, or for anyone to just offer you some encouragement.

A lot of parents worry about their kids ‘falling behind’ - this year, there is no behind. All of us, including our kids are where we are, and it’s ok if we’re not in the same place as everyone else. Many of our systems are set up for the center of the bell curve. Most of us aren’t actually there; this is an opportunity to challenge our assumptions about school, and how we work. Brick & mortar schoolkids are working through the many challenges of distance learning. Homeschoolers, while in many ways already well equipped to dealing with education at home, on our own schedules, also struggle with lack of access to programs and facilities we’re used to using.

Take advantage of what you can, let go of what you can’t. Most kids, especially elementary school kids, are going to spiral back to the same topics next year. They’re going to have more chances to learn a topic. The many countries Tag1 employees live in have different school standards. It’s ok to adopt some different standards for yourself, and your kids’ school!

Set clear guidelines around the types of things kids should or should not interrupt you for:

Sometimes it’s ok to be interrupted, but there are plenty of times it’s not appropriate. This is especially true for people whose jobs require intense concentration, or even just neurodiverse folks who have trouble getting back into gear after interruptions.

  • Teach your kids the best way to go about getting your attention for non-emergency tasks. In our house, our kids put a hand on our arm to indicate they need attention but don’t want to interrupt. We can put a hand on theirs to acknowledge them (acknowledgement is important!) and then pull them in when there’s a good time.
  • Have 3 (or more!) things your child can choose to work on if you have a sudden work emergency or you just need to concentrate and work for a bit: read a book, play a learning game, complete a daily word lesson, a craft project. In our house, we have daily lists of activities that need to be completed before screen time.
  • Train kids to become more independent and work on their life skills like meal planning and getting themselves healthy snacks. This is much easier for elementary school kids or older. The more easily they can get themselves a sandwich or some fruit, the less they’re telling us they’re hungry!
  • Learn to live with a finger on the mute button. Sometimes kids are just loud.
  • It’s easier to redirect elementary school kids and older - preschoolers and infants just need more supervision, and it’s ok for them to need that.
  • Screen time isn’t the worst thing in the world. As parents, sometimes we have to do what we have to do.

Ultimately, in a lot of ways, we have all had to learn to be transparent about interruptions to our work days - kids need things, pets need things, others we live with need things. Flexibility is the key for all of us.

Dealing with those big feelings

This past year has been stressful for many of us. Stress, anxiety, depression, illness, and the unfamiliarity of all the changes to our normal patterns takes a toll on kids as well as adults. Here’s a few things we’ve found effective in our various homes:

  • Tell and show your kids (and partners and housemates) how much you care about them, often. That extra bit of security sometimes can make a big difference in your kid’s independence, and leave you the time to do what you need to do.
  • Participate in recess every day. Fun + movement are good for your body and mind, and if you’re not taking breaks, they’ll see it. When you move around, go for a walk (when you can!), or have a mid-day dance break, it encourages them to be active too.
  • Have grace with yourself and others when things don’t go as planned. Model equanimity. And when you can’t, talk about it later.
  • Be intentional about who you disappoint. It is far too easy to put our children, and to a larger degree, ourselves as the last priority. Re-evaluate your calendar and task list from time to time to make sure they align with your values, passions, and people who need your attention most.
  • Don’t feel guilty about working fewer hours. Family is more important than career. Your kids will remember feeling safe and secure, even in the face of a crisis.

Janie Ledet is a project manager and Scrum master for Tag1. She also has school age kids at home. She likes to practice using the emotions wheel to identify and discuss feelings, and finds it works not just with children, but with coworkers and clients too. With children, it’s about identifying their feelings, while with adults it’s less about talking about the feelings and more about identifying the root cause of what’s causing bad/good feelings. Asking “How can I support you?” creates a space for individuals to ask for what they need. Teams build trust by sincerely taking an interest in how they can help each other as humans, not just as developers. This is always important, and is useful across ages, skill levels, and different jobs or tasks.

Every day is a new challenge

While there’s a potential end in sight for the pandemic, the changes that people have made as a result of it will be with us for a long time to come. While some people can’t wait for the relief of being able to send their children back to brick and mortar schools, others realize the benefits of switching their lifestyle over to true homeschooling, and the flexibility it enables. Just like every day is different for everyone in the workplace, each day with our children is a new challenge as well, and meeting everyone’s needs is a balancing act that takes patience and care.

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash