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As our world continues to face the increasing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns or stay in place arrangements showing no signs of easing up, many of us have begun to settle into a ‘new normal’ of working from home.
If we’re lucky enough to have jobs still, they’ve likely been relocated to our homes. Our only opportunities for leaving the house consist of grocery shopping or daily walks for exercise. And any socialising has moved entirely digital.
Schools and childcare centres are closed, as well as access to any recreational or extra-curricular activities or even support from friends and family. So, for parents, this new normal also looks like homeschooling, preparing extra meals and generally entertaining their children — all from the confines of their homes. For many, this all happens while maintaining full-time work responsibilities too.
This time has been challenging for all of us, but in hopes to share some helpful resources, tips or at the very least know you’re not alone, I reached out to some of Shield’s professional jugglers (working parents) to see how they’re handling this whole situation.
For parents with younger kids, it can be impossible to sneak away even for half an hour to get through emails, let alone a full workday.
“I’m finding that I need to stop very often to stop a pillow fight, clean something, sort out a snack, open something, scream something, clap about something, praise an effort, take a photo,” says Brenda Limon our Client Services Manager.
To combat the lack of childcare, some of our Shield team have switched up their hours to early mornings and evenings, to take advantage of quieter times while their kids are sleeping.
“I have changed my hours, so I start earlier at 6.30 or 7 am and do a block of work in the morning, I stop around 10 am to become a teacher, and we work together for 2 hours on schoolwork,” says Kelly Dowsett, Global Mobility Account Manager.
Others are shifting WFH hours to tag-team childcare with their partners.
“I decided to split my hours 7-9 in the morning and then 3-9 in the afternoon/evening, so my husband could work from 7 am to 3 pm and we would have child care for Olivia for the whole time,” says Katrina Philbin, our Global Mobility Team Lead.
By intentionally setting these new working from home hours, the hope is that parents won’t feel guilty for taking scheduled breaks throughout the day to be with their kids. Practically it also lets their teams know when they’ll be available and helps provide a sense of structure in these challenging times.
We know this kind of flexibility isn’t always afforded to every worker, but I think it’s fair to say the practicalities of our situations deem it necessary. By formalising the new hours with your team and managers, instead of trying to both parent and work at all times during the day, your team will likely feel more connected as they’ll know the hours they can reach you with your full attention.
As with all things in life (and particularly life with kids), plans don’t always work out. Even if you’ve structured your day to the minute, an unplanned meeting could crop up, or your kids could have a hard time going down to sleep, causing your scheduled work hours to shrink.
In these cases, it’s honestly just really important not to be too hard on yourself.
“If both parents are on a call — then we turn on the television,” says Tim Burgess, our co-founder.
You might not get through exactly eight hours of work every single day, and your kids might watch more TV than normal, but everyone is just doing the best they can.
This grace period should extend to your kids too! It’s so easy to compare yourself to images of perfect families across social media who have somehow managed to find time for craft projects, musical recitals and delicious baking all while getting all their work done.
“I’m not ashamed to say the last two weeks have been hard,” Katrina admits.
By removing the pressure to achieve something extraordinary during isolation or even to work at a similar capacity to life before, it might even be possible to enjoy this time, rather than just endure it.
“As far as the kids go, I don’t intend to have Einsteins by the end of the quarantine, I just want them to grow stronger from this and have happy hearts when this is over,” Brenda says. “If they learn something at a distance great, but we’re definitely not adding pressure regarding school activities.”
This time can be stressful for kids too — having to completely switch all their learning online, missing their friends and family who they usually see every day and stay indoors when they’re used to parks and playing sports and going to school.
“There is a healthy dialogue in our house about whether they need to do all their assigned work or just the basics,” Tim says. “Clearly, I’m in camp basic.”
Something that was a common thread between all of the parents I spoke to about working from home and parenting during this pandemic was the importance of physical activity.
Kids crave being active and by all accounts being cooped up indoors without an outlet seems to be a bit of a danger zone.
The advice seems to be to have structured physical activity throughout the day — whatever that looks like.
“Regular exercise breaks are crucial. If it is raining that might be gymnastics in my bedroom with mattresses on the floor. Or playing handball in the garage. And they love putting together dance routines,” Tim says.
“If it’s sunny we might take a walk, throw and kick a ball around, go riding on the street. Running races. Or do an obstacle course. I think we’ve done three of those now. So much fun.”
Brenda’s husband installed a net in their garage so their sons can practice golf and ‘dance hour’ is a regular occurrence.
But it doesn’t have to be something that requires set up. Marcia Polimis, one of our Account Managers, takes her two-year-old daughter on daily walks.
“We are lucky to have woods across the road, so we let her run free and burn some energy,” she says.
And, if all else fails, there’s always Youtube.
I’m sure you’re more than acquainted with Zoom or another video conferencing platform while working from home. You may have even indulged in some virtual happy hours over video call. But quite a few of the Shield parents are using video chat to set up playdates for their kids or connect with family and friends too.
“We video chat with grandparents daily and aunts and uncles as much as possible,” Katrina says.
It’s a good way to help younger kids feel some normalcy now that they can’t be around those they would routinely see before.
“[My daughter] is missing social interaction with others and it’s very hard to explain why she can’t see anyone other than mum and dad who I think she is now getting bored of,” says Marcia. “So, we make sure we FaceTime grandparents and cousins every day,” Marcia says.
It’s also something that can keep them occupied for a while while you get work done or one of the million other things that may be on the to-do list.
“[My kids] have had a few virtual playdates with their friends, cousins and grandparents which have been a welcome diversion,” Tim says.
“Entertaining a two-year-old is not easy,” Katrina says. “We set up a small obstacle course for Olivia, but that only lasted for about 30 mins before she decided she wanted to do something different.”
You’ve likely been inundated with craft ideas, educational videos and activities you can do from home, but if you’re by chance still looking for ideas (or overwhelmed by the options) try to start with what you already know.
Brenda’s sons are still taking their Tae Kwon Do lessons via Zoom and Marcia’s received some activity packs from her daughter’s nursery. If there’s something that used to be in your routine before, try and find a way to keep it there. If your kids attended weekly sports, why not see if their coach is offering online tutorials? If you had a science centre membership, could you recreate some of the experiments?
But, again, sometimes all that matters is that they’ve been entertained for another 30 minutes not whether they’re the next Picasso.
While it’s obviously clear that working from home as a parent can be difficult at the best of times (and this isn’t really the best of times), I was struck by how many of the Shield parents talked about the things they were loving about spending more time at home.
“I feel, like a lot of working parents, that during the week I sometimes just get scraps of time with my kids at the beginning and end of the day. And it’s mostly rushing through chores and homework and getting ready for school or bed or to go somewhere,” Tim says.
“But spending more time with them and learning what they are into—and helping them when they get stuck. And playing together. It’s been fantastic.”
Katrina’s making the time as special as possible.
“We have built cushion forts and camped out in the living room,” she says.
And Mara Bagsik, one of our accountants, is loving the organic opportunities to connect with her kids and teach them about life. Something that doesn’t always happen without prolonged periods of time spent together.
“I’m just glad when [my son’s] curiosity kicks in and approaches me when I’m cooking, feeding the pets, doing the laundry at the back of our house and other stuff,” she says. “I take advantage of those moments and show him further how things are done.”
Mara’s daughter is currently studying accounting too, so she’s also excited to be able to show her what being an accountant is actually like.
“She mentioned she’s interested in learning more about our job when her school ends sometime in May, so she might be sitting beside Carlo or me sometimes while doing our work and see how her lessons apply in actual work and I’m actually looking forward to that.”
And while Gabi Whitfield, one of our Account Managers, admits that things would be different if her son were younger, she loves the extra time with her teenage son, Trevor.
“Trevor being home all day has helped me in more ways than one,” she says.
“He comes in to ask me if I want anything or to chat here and there, and honestly this has made me beyond happy. It has given me some mental breaks during the day if even for five minutes. Typically he is in school, and as a teenager says about three sentences a day to me. It’s really nice seeing his face and the little chats here and there.”
I know it’s not always helpful advice to say ‘try and be grateful’, particularly when you may be going through a genuinely difficult time. But hearing these perspectives really did make me realise that there can be some enjoyable moments amongst all of this disruption.
“I think it’s really helpful to find anything we are grateful for right now,” Tim says.
“There is nobody I’d rather go through this with.”
– Bree Caggiati, April 2020
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