Things are getting real here in the US. Apple, Google, and Amazon are all forcing their employees to work remotely. School districts are closing schools to “flatten the curve.” For a lot of people, these two announcements feel mutually exclusive. As someone who’s worked from home for over ten years, I can say, you’re concerns are not unfounded. In other words, for a lot of parents, having everyone home all together while trying to stay sane and be productive is going to be a struggle. Talking to my supervisor the other day, we discussed the concept of creating a workable set of clearly communicated boundaries to keep everyone from wanting to run screaming into the woods, which she dubbed “The Coronavirus Survival Survival Guide.” Spurred on by that, I’ve put together some suggestions based on research to help those new to remote work or those who simply don’t know how they’ll manage with everyone all smooshed into one home together. And thus, I present “The Coronavirus Survival Survival Guide.”
Create a Daily Family Schedule
Yup, I know. We’re all the master of managing multiple calendars to get our kids to their activities, appointments, and whatever else they need. However, those calendars don’t often include things like scheduling a conference call around snack time or having to balance two different people’s conference call schedules when you have dogs that might start barking in the background.
Talking with your family members and prioritizing which daily tasks require focus needs to be the first step in surviving our curve flattening. For example, most of the time, I don’t need to know my partner’s daily call schedule because those happen outside of the home.
For the next few weeks—or even months—we’re going to need to create a daily task board and time management system of some sort. Some things to discuss with your family:
- What tasks absolutely must be completed on a given day?
- What tasks absolutely cannot be interrupted?
- What tasks require quiet?
- What times of the day do you have free to answer kids’ questions or distract them for a while?
While this may not be anything different than you’re used to at work, you’re now bringing a lot of these things into your home life. If yours is anything like mine, it’s a generalized hot mess of rushing and disorganization. I wholeheartedly understand that this is something that’s going to be new for a lot of us, myself included.
Figure Out the Electronics Rules
A pandemic is definitely something out of the norm. Honestly, I’m about 90% of the “no cares to give” about my child’s electronic media consumption.
It’s really that 10%. My kid is good with TV for only a certain amount of hours before they lose interest and suddenly need attention. Since most of my work peers are in California while I’m in Connecticut, Kiddo burns out pretty much around the time that I need to start talking to people.
This is why I suggested figuring out the day’s “musts” before anything else. If I know that I have to be focused between 2pm and 3pm for a call, then I know to schedule some attention time before that so that my kid gets bored of me before I need to focus.
When you’re thinking about emergency electronics rules, it could help to think about:
- Can I handle the effort it takes to argue about electronics?
- How much do I want to monitor what my child is doing with electronics?
- How much space do I need from my kid to keep from missing something important at work?
- How quiet do I need the house when I’m trying to concentrate?
- How much time do my kids usually manage to entertain themselves with electronics?
- Is my kid one of the ones that gets amped up after watching TV or playing video games? If so, how long does that take?
A lot of the remote working bandwidth for the short-term is going to revolve around “What can I manage without losing my business?” Know yourself and your limit first, then work from there. Y’all, I’ll be straight up with you, this is about a level of survival, not about being the best parent. Am I going to worry about whether my kid is watching more than the recommended hours of television per day? Not unless it’s going to cause a different problem for me, like bored Kiddo suddenly barging in during a conference call.
Setting these boundaries as early as possible gives you one way to enforce them. As in, my kid blares the television. On a weekend, I can manage this, barely. If this is going to be my life for a few weeks or so? I need to set a specific volume limit and enforce that with a consequence.
Make the choices that are right for your family but also the ones that are right for you.
Find the Right Spot to Do Work
I have a home office, but when my partner is home, he works in the kitchen. Our house is not spacious, and this basically leaves us at separate ends of the house. Sometimes, if the Kiddo wants someone in the room with them, I can work in front of the television for a while. I can’t do it all day long.
Looking around your house, ask yourself:
- What do I need to be productive?
- What distracts me?
- Is there a place in my house where I can limit the distractions, even if I can’t remove them?
- What technology do I need to be effective?
One of my partner’s issues is that working from home means the only screen is on the work laptop, rather than having external screens as well. If this is a problem, it might be valuable thinking creatively. For example, can you connect a laptop to a smart TV or is the money on a 10-foot HDMI cord worth it for you? The answer might be yes or no. However, you need to start by knowing what you need so that you can decide how to make the right accommodation.
Set Time for the Kids
If you have kids like mine, then you know they almost invariably need some attention throughout the day. If that’s the case, you might want to find a way to incorporate this into your daily work schedule.
For example, you could:
- Make sure to sit and have lunch together for a half-hour every day
- Block off time on your work calendar if you know you usually have to help kids with schoolwork, since many schools will send work home
- See if you have board games that you can play in 30-40 minutes and suggest those to your children as a way to take time away from screens
- Set timers for the kids so they know when the activity is over
The goal here is to find something that takes a finite amount of time and fits into your day
Set Time for Yourself
We talk a lot on social media about “self-care.” Most moms don’t have a lot of time for that during normal times. With work and school routines out of whack, self-care can take a variety of forms. If you’re an introvert, even one who loves their family, having everyone home can become overwhelming.
If you can’t really go anywhere because public places are closed, then you need to start getting creative:
- Lock yourself in the bedroom or bathroom (no, I’m not kidding at all)
- Go for a walk outdoors
- Take a book and snack, get in your car, and drive to the nearest parking lot
- Put in earplugs, pop on noise-canceling headphones, and sit in your living room listening to music, an audiobook, or a favorite podcast
I have done all of these things. Am I proud of them? Well, maybe not. Some, though. It’s important to keep in mind that this is temporary. If we flatten the curve, the remote work and cancelations will end faster.
Last Ditch Efforts
I’ve been through this nearly every summer for the last four years. During my freelance years, I became pretty creative about balancing getting work done and not paying for summer camp. Even last summer, with my full-time job, I put together a mini-air conditioner with a portable laptop battery, took these to the local pool, and sent my kid off to play with other kids.
A few examples that can make this easier for parents:
- If you know the kids up the street aren’t sick and want to come over, let them entertain your child, put on the noise-canceling headphones and turn on white noise.
- If you feel comfortable, pack your kid in the car, take them to a playground, bring your laptop, and connect your hotspot.
For people who haven’t experienced this type of long-term(ish) work from home experience, these unoriginal suggestions might be a way to kick start some brainstorming based on what you know about your neighborhood and kid.
Survival: One Day at a Time
Everything is changing day by day. Every day, the news announces another slew of COVID-19 diagnoses. Every day, more events are canceled or postponed.
The thing to remember is that none of this is permanent. My mother always says, “this, too, shall pass—like a kidney stone, not without a certain amount of discomfort.” In this, she’s not wrong. In a few years, or maybe decades, we’ll all look back at this moment in time and talk about, “Remember that time we worked together to and helped slow down the spread of that pandemic Coronavirus?”