As the one-year anniversary of quarantining and remote working during COVID-19 comes to pass, one in four employees are still working remotely. In this new environment, people have had to come up with unique strategies to handle working remotely, entertaining and schooling kids from home and keeping their own mental health in check. GHJ employees are no different.
While remote working and working anytime, anywhere is not a new concept at GHJ, balancing the other challenges brought on with pandemic quarantine efforts have led to innovative solutions. With nearly 93 percent of households with school-aged children are managing some sort of remote learning over this past year, parents are learning to juggle full-time jobs with raising and educating kids in a remote environment. Here is how GHJ’s employees are able to #BeMore while balancing kids at home in a remote environment.
- AMY EYBSEN (AE): Four-year-old daughter and husband who works from home as well
- ANDREW HOLUBECK (AH): Three kids ages nine, 12 and 13 and a wife who works out of the house both during the week and over the weekends
- DAN LANDES (DL): Two kids ages six and 10 and a wife who works four days from home and one day from the office
- KATIE HETTINGER (KH): Four-year-old daughter and husband who works from home as well; daughter was home and not attending preschool from March through October 2020
- YULIA MURZAEVA (YM): Primary caregiver for two daughters ages seven and 12 and a husband who works from home and can assist in short-time periods or when she is in a bind (like back-to-back meetings)
TIPS AND INSIGHTS
How do you split up childcare with your partner/spouse?
What has worked best for us has been to block out time on our schedules for childcare. Splitting up the childcare into set hours has given us the ability to be open with coworkers and clients about our availability. With an active toddler, it helps to always have a primary responsible party for watching her instead of constantly splitting our attention and trying to multitask.
AH: Thankfully, my kids are older and have become pretty understanding of the fact that I have work calls/meetings throughout most of the week and are good at staying out of my office if the door is closed, unless there is an emergency. However, there are still times when they need help with homework or resolving conflicts between them and that can require me to be flexible with my schedule to accommodate.
This is something that we both struggle with as we both have demanding full-time jobs. We do not necessarily split things up, and honestly, sometimes depends on whom the kids go to with questions. In a perfect world, we would want to split childcare evenly; however, depending who is on a call or meeting at a specific time dictates which parent is available to help out. One year into the pandemic (and with kids still in virtual schooling until the fall), we are continuously updating our “plan” on “who does what” based on each person’s needs for the day/week.
KH: When work meetings were scheduled, we communicated with each other as to when we each have a specific meeting to attend that way the other could block of their schedule. I also created an hourly schedule for my daughter Ava similar to her old school schedule. This helped keep Ava in a daily routine. Each of us had designated times when we watch Ava. There were also scheduled times for each activity such as movie time or individual playtime.
YM: My older daughter has helped out a lot during this time – whether it is homework help with the younger one or just occupying her for an hour or so. At first, we had to incentivize her to do that, but she has since grown to accept and enjoy the responsibility. I think the ideal situation is, however, when both parents are willing and able to participate in kids’ supervision, and in that case, both parents need to come to the drawing board with their schedules for the week at the beginning of the week and negotiate who and when will watch the kids.
What best practices have you developed to help make the most of your time?
AE: I have adapted to setting specific times each day to check in with teams and clients. Creating a structured day has allowed me to set aside time for my own and my family’s needs while still keeping on track of my work responsibilities.
AH: I block off an hour each day at lunch to make sure I am able to at least step away, make lunch for my kids and spend a bit of time with them. I also generally turn off the computer between 6 and 9 p.m. for the day. I also communicate my schedule to my teams and partners so that they know that I will be unlikely to respond to questions until the following day.
DL: I tend to wake up very early (i.e., 5 a.m.), so I can work a few hours uninterrupted before the kids get up and my co-workers are online. My wife tends to sleep in later and work more after dinner than I do (so this does help split things up a little bit). I learned early on that I need to block myself off from 12-1 p.m. for lunch, and when in virtual meetings, I generally give a “heads up” that kids can barge in at any time. Both my wife and I are very fortunate that we work for very family-oriented and progressive companies where we are allowed to flex our time, and we do not get in trouble for family interruptions. If there is a time where I absolutely need to be watching the kids, I will block it off on my calendar or reach out to a partner if it gets in the way of a meeting (they are usually very understanding). We have also been teaching our kids more “self-reliance” which has been surprisingly working pretty well!
KH: I would block out my schedule from 9-10 a.m. My husband has daily work meetings at this time, so I needed to watch our daughter. Blocking off my schedule allowed my colleagues to be able to schedule around my availability and allowed me to focus on my daughter when I needed to.
YM: During the days when the kids are out of school, I use schedule blocking and try to spend time with them before lunch. That way I can focus on work after lunch and have them play together at that time. During school days, I usually stay close to my younger daughter to make sure she stays on topic while also work on things that do not require me be on the phone. I also work when they go to bed. Previously, I also took advantage of the CARES Act family leave to work fewer hours temporarily and have now reduced my hours to accommodate managing the schooling.
Do you have any best practices for zoom meetings?
AE: I try to communicate ahead of time that my daughter might be in the background. As a distraction tool for when I need to be on calls, I have utilized various games and activities. She really likes the website Vooks that converts books into animated stories, so she can watch it and the words are highlighted so she is learning at the same time.
AH: Generally, my kids are aware if my office door is closed they should stay out unless an emergency pops up. However, I actually find that most people in and outside of GHJ are very understanding of the occasional “zoom-bombing” by my daughter (who is nine and sometimes forgets/ignores the rule).
DL: Both my wife and I are fortunate to have rooms where we can shut the door when we are on a call. The kids are generally respectful about not coming in and will go to the other parent when the door is shut. Instead, they will generally play video games and have zoom meetings with their friends in the mornings/afternoons (when not in school) – so it is easier for me to have more important meetings when their attention is elsewhere. My wife and I also go over our schedules at the beginning of each day to identify potential issues and see if we can work around any roadblocks. If there are any important meetings, we will brainstorm on the best thing to do to keep the kids occupied elsewhere or in another part of the house.
KH: Part of the daily schedule I created for my daughter was an hour of outside playtime. My husband took her outside to play, and I could take advantage of this quiet time to schedule zoom meetings. My daughter also loves to play independently and every day she had a designated time for independent play when I could also schedule zoom meetings if needed.
YM: I have tried doing virtual classes and playdates; however, I find that it is generally more work for me to keep the younger one at the screen and assist with anything they need during the class. I have invested in a lot of board games and things they can do independently outside, as well as into an e-book subscription. They know not to interrupt me when I am in a meeting, especially if it is a video call for the most part. If it is a routine client or internal meeting, I will take the meeting, and if they interrupt, so be it. I have found that all of the clients and internal team members without exception have been incredibly understanding of any interruptions that might occur when the kids pop in. If it is an audit committee meeting or other important meeting, I go in a separate room where they would not disturb me for the most part.
What activities have you used to keep your kids engaged during work hours?
AE: We use Pre-K Pages, a preschool program and Lakeshore Learning Toys. Our daughter is has a lot of energy, and having activities helps keep her distracted when I have to work. She also has done her own zoom playdates with friends, which is actually quite adorable to watch.
AH: Aside from technology (such as iPads), we got two new puppies last year, which has been fun for the family and a great learning opportunity for my three kids. They have a schedule of who is responsible to watch the puppies throughout the day so they are learning scheduling and how to care for something other than themselves.
DL: The morning is “learning time,” and we have empowered our ten year old to teach our six year old numbers and letters (it does not always work out, but it sometimes does). My kids also like to use the morning time to chat with grandparents and friends when it works out. Screen time to after lunch – which is when the kids watch TV and play video games. It is way more screen time than we would generally allow, but both my wife and I need the time to focus on our core daily tasks.
KH: I looked for new activities for my daughter via online resources such as Play to Learn Preschool to keep her occupied. There was a specified time where Ava and I played together, so Ava knew when I was available to play. I also rotated toys or purchased new toys to keep her entertained. In the afternoon after her nap was when she could watch a movie or shows. The number one thing that helped tremendously was having the daily routine schedule for her to have a structured day and know what to expect.
YM: During school days, most of their time is taken by schoolwork and homework, as well as online classes. During non-school days we have a schedule where before lunch they do various things with me (go outside, arts and crafts, academic activities, etc.). During this time, I try not to work and focus on the kids. After lunch, they have two hours of playing together and two hours of screen time intermittently. That way I get four hours – more or less – of uninterrupted work time. Additionally, we try to buy new toys once in a while, get e-books from the library (they can both read well), download lessons plans/activities from the Internet, etc.
While schools are gearing up to bring kids back into the classroom, it may be a while before things are back to where the world was before COVID-19. In the meantime, using these strategies can help remote employees juggle childcare and work:
- Coordinating schedules with significant others to prevent distractions and splitting attention between work and children
- Blocking off schedule for coworkers to know when unavailable
- Creating a structured schedule for children (and self)
- Using online learning tools to keep children busy
- Having children entertain each other (or pets)
- Rotating in new toys and activities