Real Life: Enforced home working and family life

We’re at the end of the first eight weeks of enforced lock down. This is not an easy situation for anyone but when I say that, I feel very aware that we are not front line workers risking our own health or that of our family, or struggling with job

family looking in the window

insecurity or dealing with difficult personal situations, and how worrying these times must be for these people. I feel fortunate for many things; my husband David and I have work, we have supportive colleagues, our children are healthy and are lucky enough to have space in our house and access to a garden.

The juggle is a struggle but nothing compared to what front line workers are having to do. I have found it helpful hearing from others about how they manage their days, so I wanted to share my story in this context. And also to share how important having a supportive, empathetic and flexible team is to making this all work and keep everyone going.

David is a Partner in a Law firm and works full time. I have been working 3 days a week and have also been setting up a new organisation which is now up and running so I’m back to ‘officially’ 3.5 days a week. We have three young children age four and 23 month old twins.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on our experience so far. Probably like everyone, there are bits that are working well, bits that I find really stressful and tiring and there are some bits of this experience that I’m taking as positives.

Firstly, it’s hard for anyone to manage work with children at home. Let’s get that out there! And for people who are managing children at home alone, how much harder that must be. Everyone’s situation is so different and has different challenges. So how have we been managing things? Much of our fortunate circumstances come from the fact that we both “sell” knowledge which can be delivered as effectively in a remote setting as in the office. What can’t be delivered effectively is childcare for two toddlers and a pre-schooler and providing client advice at the same time.

The bit that I feel is working well is how David and I are managing the structure of our day juggling work and children between us. Now, I am not saying every day is a success or that we are offering the most fun and calm childcare, but the structure to our days is helping us.

This led to us adopting a “shift pattern” where one of us typically starts ‘paid work’ between 6am and 7am and we alternate between work and childcare in roughly two-three hour stints, dependent on calls and other work commitments. We tend to break around 6pm to bath the kids and get them to bed and then one or both of us have been working between 730pm-930pm Monday- Thursday. We are trying to ease this off a little now as it’s really not sustainable in the long term and very tiring. We have taken Friday night off (beer o’clock- hooray). We have a shared calendar on our phones which I couldn’t do without and put in absolute work musts in there i.e. team meetings and clients calls. The night before, we then split up how we will work the following day and when so we can let our colleagues know when we’ll be available.

Typically, we both get between 5 and 6 hours of paid work in the “working day” and a chance to catch-up on any outstanding tasks once the kids are in bed. We have done a little work at the weekend but we try to focus on the children more then as we realise we are far from our best when we are pulled in too many directions.

So on the face of it, this is ok and manageable, but there have been down sides to this too. The days have been very long. Seven weeks in, I feel tired. There isn’t time for a break in between ‘shifts’; you’re busy getting everything finished up for work, then rushing straight into childcare. Broken sleep from the 4 year old who had his beloved dummy confiscated by the easter bunny isn’t helping. I am usually up for the day at 5am, then it’s go go go until bedtime. There is also SO much more cooking to do at the moment; with everyone at home it’s now three meals a day to prepare and tidy up. Although I have noticed that with us both being around all the time and sharing the childcare more equally, that the children now defer to both of us rather than mostly me and that Dave and I are sharing more of the household work more equally between us.

I do find it stressful working to a constant ‘deadline’ of handing over to Dave. What if I don’t get a piece of work finished? It hangs over you while you are looking after the children and they don’t get your proper attention. Or you have to take a call when you are with the children as that’s the only time that that person is available. Our eldest Alfie reminds me: ‘This is mummy time, stop working mummy.’ I feel guilty. I also feel I have zero time or energy to come up with creative ideas or games for the children. I am grateful for my friends chat groups for their suggestions and for the nursery who sends over stories and challenges which I can print off and use.

In the first few weeks I also found it hard managing multiple communication channels with colleagues and family; not only are we co-ordinating our day as a family but we are co-ordinating with our teams and their families and commitments. At first, we had too many forms of communication (Teams, Email, two whatsaap groups, personal email) and that was too much for us all, so we have limited it now to work email and Teams. That is working better.

I feel lucky to have such caring and understanding colleagues. We are very flexible and are open about what we are able to do and what we are not able to do. We have a plan of what needs to be done every two weeks which focuses on outputs. And I realise again that a little empathy goes a long way.

I also struggle a bit to switch off (this is a problem anyway!) and dedicate time to myself. I go for a long walk – ALONE - on a Sunday morning which is amazing and I remind myself about how important it is to have this headspace to switch off and enjoy the world around you and the sunshine. Thank god for all this amazing sunshine. There is still lots to be thankful for.

And in fact this experience – as awful as it is for so many people- has created opportunity and positives. In our case, our children have enjoyed having us around more (at least the times we are being nice to them). You realise again what is important life and how very little you need to be happy. The air is cleaner and clearer and the light in the sky is brighter. There is less traffic noise so you can hear the birds. I miss my mum and she desperately misses the children but it’s amazing how even she has adapted to the occasional Zoom call. And I believe that working culture will never be the same after all this. More and more people will want to work flexibly, do some home working. And how much better our environment, families and productivity will be because of that.

We need to keep adapting and moving forward. Yes the juggle is a struggle. But nothing compared to what front line workers are having to do.

Keep on going, everyone.