Now many of us are in the situation where whole families are now working, living and schooling all in the home. If you’re not yet in this position you likely will be very soon (unless you are one of the key workers out there, at risk doing an amazing job keeping things safe for the rest of us.) So how do we manage this ‘alien’ situation and all come through the other side unscathed?!
I’m in no way claiming to be an expert and in fact I am less than a week into our new ‘routine’ after trialling a few things over the weekend in preparation for the week ahead. But I will share with you what our plan is, as well as sharing any updates or learnings.
You will also notice in this blog I am focusing purely on the practical elements of working from home as a family. You will see on my social media I have been sharing lots of tips around maintaining your own mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic so for that reason I am not including within this practical guide.
Giving you a little bit of background before we begin (as I appreciate my experience won’t resonate exactly with everyone) will allow you to adapt these practical tips to make them relevant to you. So, here is a little bit about me and my working from home situation:
I am a freelance trainer specialising in workplace mental health training. I am an instructor for Mental Health First Aid England and deliver their full adult syllabus as well as writing bespoke materials for my clients. All of my training is face to face. I do have days where I work from home when I am not in training delivery and these days I catch up on course admin; booking appointments to meet potential clients and creating material for social media and writing blogs as well as new course content. All work which requires focus and concentration! My husband is employed full time and is always office based. He is now working from home so expectations around answering emails and taking calls while he is carrying out his work. We also have two daughters who are 3 and 1 and they are usually in full time nursery.
So, here is our plan to get us through the foreseeable. We have aimed to balance completing our work effectively; with looking after the girls and maintaining their routine; along with ensuring we look after our own mental wellbeing.
Plan for the day
- Each evening we plan and prioritise the work we each have to get done the following day. So work that needs to be done uninterrupted such as conference calls, online courses and telephone 121’s are planned in first so the other can watch the girls.
- We then plan in time for other work that needs to be completed. This means we are not getting stressed trying to balance everything and we are able to support each other so our ‘working from home’ work can be completed as effectively as possible
- We are getting up, dressed and ready for work, including the girls, at the usual time. No working in ‘comfies’ or from bed in this house! It really does help in keeping boundaries between work and life so once our ‘working’ day is finished we can then get our ‘comfies’ on and relax.
- My husband and I have also committed to completing the Insanity fitness challenge while we are in lock down. We do this first thing at 7am and take advantage of no commute! Exercise sets you up for the day making you feel more energised. By ensuring we are doing physical activity daily we are releasing endorphins to improve our mood and instantly reducing stress. There are also the physical benefits of regular exercise and it improves sleep which has a real positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. There are lots of free resources available as well. Heather Spencer has uploaded a 45 minute yoga session to her YouTube channel on a pay as you feel basis with an aim to begin offering online yoga classes in the not too distant future and she really is an incredible yoga instructor.
- I think sometimes the mindset can be different around breaks at home as it can feel very different from working in the workplace. But still take those breaks- you’re so much more productive when you have a break. And this doesn’t mean using the time to catch up on household chores! We are using the time playing out in the garden with the girls as a welcome break from the focus on work. We also have a puppy and walking him is a great opportunity for a break away from it all too.
Balancing it all with children
- Routine for the children is important- as tempting as it is sometimes to let them run feral! But children thrive on routine. Our three year old has asked so many times why she’s not going to nursery and even the one year old put her coat on and was stood at the door with her nursery bag this morning so they are both missing it. We are trying to fit in outside play time; usual nap times; as well as learning time
- Just a point on learning- don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You are still working and you are not a trained teacher. So be realistic! It isn’t homeschooling- this is an emergency situation and all you can do is your best.
- Fresh air and exercise is really important- for all the same reasons as for adults. There’s nothing worse than being cooped up in the house all day, everyday for the foreseeable. Even if it is playing in the garden or moving activities such as creativity to outside rather than inside. There are some fabulous free resources available such as Joe Wicks PE lesson every morning at 9am on his YouTube channel; and the Body Bible are also offering their family fitness programme which is usually £45, for free!
- Each day we will get the girls outside for some fresh air and play- this is counted as a break for us. We will ‘learn’ which consists of nothing more than reading a book, or doing a jigsaw or playing a game. And we are trying to make use of a free online resource each day such as Joe Wicks or the Body Bible as mentioned above. We are not over complicating anything.
Communicate and connect
- It sounds obvious but communicating with your partner regularly is key. Don’t assume the other person knows what your needs are. Keep talking! This is really important at all levels. We are all in a situation that we have never experienced before. For children it can be confusing or worrying- keep checking in on how they’re feeling. Equally consider what your partner may be experiencing. This is an unsettling, worrying and surreal time for us all to get our heads around so keep talking and be kind.
- Communicate what you need to do daily so you are all achieving your workload and sharing responsibilities.
- Communicate with others when completing work calls or video conferences to let them know the children are at home- apologising in advance for any interruption takes off the pressure (most people will be in the same boat) One day this week our daughter Betsy was talking via Skype to a client of my husband’s children. Embrace it- we are all in this together and it can really work to build those business relationships because there is that added element of authenticity. A side to people that you wouldn’t normally see in business.
- I am ensuring that I maintain my strong business network as well. So many networking groups are moving online and it is so important that we maintain and continue to build these important relationships; now more than ever before. This week I have already completed a 121 that I had booked and it was great. It was something to look forward to (someone different to speak to so another perspective.) And while we shared tips with each other we were still able to talk business; not for now- but readiness for once this time passes. It really helped me to maintain my personal business focus and direction and gave me the boost to think I was doing all I could despite paid work being off the cards right now given all my work is face to face training.
- Virtual group don’t need to be just in the business context. Unmasked Mental Health’s app is designed for people who are struggling with their mental health to help them to connect with others who are having a similar experience. The Thrive Team are hosting a lunchtime huddle at 1pm every weekday for those working from home just to interact with others, guest speakers, daily topics and a focus on your mental health and wellbeing.
Time out and respect alone time
- It isn’t easy being within your household with no breaks from each other. In usual day to day life the fact we go out to work, do hobbies, go to clubs etc ensure we get that break from our family environment. It’s not easy to facilitate this in our current situation but be mindful of each other and give each other some breathing space alone. My husband walks the dog on his own; I get time to just get away to listen to a book or something else to help me relax. Make time for that! And again pull on the virtual resources that are available. I joined Ruth Richards, hypnotherapist, Sunday night meditations last week. This was just one session in a series that Ruth is running and it was fantastic. You can join The Sunday Night Chill by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Recognise your partner for the great things they’re doing- you will see them in a new light. Don’t focus on the things that have annoyed you (from experience there will be lots of things given you’re spending so much time together!) but focus and recognise the good. This is a worrying time for us all and we all need to encourage each other.
- This won’t last forever
- Be realistic. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to homeschool, maintain family responsibilities and work, all at the same time. So don’t set those expectations. The mental health and wellbeing of you and your family are far more important at this time
- It is a great opportunity to work in different ways which may lead to better working environments once this has passed
- Cherish the time with your family and enjoy the slowed down pace of life for this short time
- We are all in this together, being kind is more important than it ever has been