Wednesday 18th March, 5pm was a life-defining moment for many parents. It was when the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced that schools would be closed ‘until further notice’.
Along with most other parents, especially working parents, that evening required a large glass of wine. The WhatsApp groups were out of control. My husband and I kept wondering: how on earth would we home school our kids as well as work from home ‘until further notice’? Those three words that seems to come at the end of every sentence at the moment.
Just over a week later, I’m pleased to say that we have made what seemed impossible, possible. Each working parent will have figured out a ‘model’ that works for them. Here’s what we’ve done in our house: a 2-hour (give or take) shift of either working or looking after the kids (ours are aged 3 and 6), from 8 – 8pm. This allows each of us to not be too long away from work or the kids.
Flexibility is the name of the game here and it’s been great to see my colleagues so supportive of all the working parents. I have let people know that I might send emails very early and very late. The post-bedtime window has become essential for many working parents and I’ve let teams know that there is no expectation for them to reply at those times.
The main tools of our trade are a laptop and phone; we’ve shown that we don’t need to be in an office to deliver client results.
As the whole country faces this kind of working set-up ‘until further notice’, I’m sure there will be lots to learn along the way. Here’s what I’ve learnt from the first week:
- If you have a partner, crystal clear communication with them is more vital than ever – you’ll be juggling two sets of work diaries, instead of one. We tend to sit down in the evening with our work diary commitments as the starting point and everything else fits around that
- Set boundaries with the kids – easier said than done, especially with pre-school kids. We’ve explained that when mummy or daddy go upstairs, it’s their work time. During the day – upstairs is the adult work zone and the kids have the downstairs.
- Don’t be ‘attached’ to whatever model you set up – it has to be a loose model as there are lots of moving parts – the needs of your clients, the needs of your team, the needs of your partner’s work and of course the hungry stomachs of your children (in the case of my kids, this is every 2 hours!). Adaptability and flexibility are key
- Clients are facing the same juggling challenges as us so are appreciative of honesty and versatility – e.g. in the past week, I’ve had a client call in the evening and have been able to offer evening slots for our online media training
- Have a think about whether it’s ok if your child joins your team video conference in the morning – they will usually bring a smile to everyone’s face. As much as its best practice is to separate your time into work and non-work, there will inevitably be some blurring of boundaries – just accept that things won’t always neatly fit into boxes
- Recognise that adults and kids are creatures of habit, so some sort of routine is really helpful. It helps set expectations for all parties
Ultimately, I think this extraordinary situation will change the way we work forever. It will be a real game changer for the flexible working that parents crave. If most of the world can work from home for months on end, whilst also running a school and 24-hour food service, anything is possible.