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Telecommuting and Homeschooling in Light of the Coronavirus

Image of EJ Phillips
EJ Phillips

Many are telecommuting in light of best social distancing practices and COVID-19. We here at MPWRSource are accustomed to working from home on a semi-regular basis.  The vast majority of the MPWRSource Squad telecommute 2-3 days a week, spending the rest of the time in the office, in company meetings, meeting with clients, and/or collaborating on work projects.  So the transition to telecommuting entirely in light of Coronavirus is not entirely off brand.  And yet, none of us have done this while also attempting to parent and apparently now homeschooling our children.  In the coming posts, we will be looking at how to successfully navigate this new telecommuting realm.  Hopefully, you can learn from our victories and near misses.

I will confess that I really just want to leave my kids to themselves.  They’re old enough.  Can’t I just stock the fridge with fruit, the pantry with Ramen, and let Disney + and Fortnite take care of the rest?  But apparently my school system, in an effort to, I don’t know, ACTUALLY EDUCATE MY KIDS (how dare they?!), have set up lessons for them to do remotely.  So now I shall homeschool my children as well.  Or, as I have come to think of it, I shall conduct them playing music while the whole ship goes down.

But what does this even look like?  Many of my peers are telecommuting greenhorns.  There is a steep learning curve.  And how does one even structure work and family?  Were any of us even getting the work/life balance correct before?  I have talked with some telecommuting pros, a life coach, a professional organizer, a school mental health professional, and even some seasoned homeschool educators to attempt to grasp what the next coming weeks will look like.  As it turns out, it may be a little less symphony on the Titanic than I first thought.

First we shall simply welcome many of you to the world of telecommuting.

Tips for Telecommuting:

Ideally, you would have been able to plan for your new telecommuting job.  This planning would have included defining set expectations from your employer, with policies in place that outlined such basic things like scheduling expectations, flexibility, how to collaborate, and how to hold one another accountable.  Should you get sick, will you have to take PTO or can you just make up your work?  All of these questions should be addressed.  Do not fall into the trap that thinking telecommuting is simply moving your office to your dining room table.  Teleworking works best when both employers and employees communicate clearly about expectations.

Despite the fact that you may have been thrust into one of the largest growing segments of the American workforce (the number of people who now work from home has grown by 140% since 2005 according to Global Workplace Analytics), you and your employer should address the following issues:

Understand Telecommuting Policies
  • Are there even policies in place?
  • Have employers made sure that all employees have processed this information?
Review Technology Needs and Resources
  • Identify technology tools that enable working from home. How will your team collaborate?
  • Ensure team members have access to local tech support in the event such  needs arise.
  • Determine what platform you and your team will use to communicate as a team. You may already have some of these things in place, such as a subscription to Office 365, and may not need to enlist more apps or tools. You may, however, need more.
  • General Resources for Telecommuting:
    • General online work and collaboration: Office 365 or GSuite, for example.
    • General Communication: MS Teams, Google Hangouts, Slack (All of these would be preferable to group texts as they are searchable).
    • Video Conferencing: MS Teams/Skype, Zoom, Ring Central
    • Project Management: Basecamp, Trello, Zoho, Jira, Microsoft Project
Review Work Schedules
  • Be sure to communicate with your employees your expectations regarding scheduling. Telework does not necessarily mean flex work.  Telecommuting requires a modicum of self-dicipline.  Not only because you need to focus on work and avoid doing laundry to procrastinate, you also need to be mindful that there is also the temptation to never stop working.  After all, it is hard to leave work at the office when the office is a desk in the corner of your bedroom.

  • We have found success using the Pomodoro technique of time management. Simply put, this focuses on batching tasks and setting timers.  Focused work in 25 minute segments with a 5 minute break.  Do four full “pomodoros” followed by a longer 15-30 minute break that includes some physical activity.  Then repeat.

  • Recognize that your co-workers and employees will be eager for interaction but also may not welcome the distraction that interaction brings. Structuring regular check-ins can be a way to mitigate this.

  • Instead of focusing on how many hours your employees are working, focus on results and the accomplishing set goals. Completed work product will speak for itself and be the measure of success.

  • Recognize that with enough coordination, telecommuting can actually improve efficiency and extend service hours.

Make a Communication Plan
  • How often do you expect employees to check in with supervisors?

  • What methods of accountability will you use to insure that projects are handled in a timely manner?

  • Supervisors should also communicate how quickly they expect employees to respond and set up parameters for communicating outside of regular work hours, especially if giving employees freedom to flex work. Does Brad really need to respond immediately to that message at 10pm even if he is still working or can it wait until the morning?

So your schedule for yourself is set, now what about the kids? 

In truth, it all depends upon the ages of your children.  The older your children are, the more you can give them the responsibility of setting their own schedule.  As I type this, my kids are all on their Chromebooks doing their on-line assignments.  Their teachers are amazing and have set up online lesson plans for the next two weeks.  And yet, I know that at some point, I will end up being like this dad during a conference call:



We have all seen the schedules.  And they are GREAT. (One of my favorite resources is this professional organizer.)  But for some of us (this writer included), it feels like one more thing to add to our overflowing plate.  So my advice? Cut yourself and your kids some slack.  Is this Spring Break?  Absolutely not.  And yet, it is also not business as usual.  I can’t help but think of all of the families during World War II who thrived despite hiding, being in concentration camps, or huddling in the underground during the Blitz.  I do not think for one second those families were concerned about compound fractions or projects about Vincent Van Gogh.  And yet, the stories that remain are ones where families treasured the arts and connection: good literature, playing the violin, a hoarded deck of cards that was passed around.  So in this house, yes, yes, we are doing our lesson plans, Mrs. Albert, I swear.  But we are also hosting a Chess tournament where the winner of the most matches will earn an undetermined amount of money.  We are watching musicals.  We are painting.  We are dancing to the Hamilton soundtrack.

Later this week, we will look at some of the common pitfalls of telecommuting.  Like while we love our soft pants, it may just be good for your sanity to bathe and get dressed.  Possibly.

If you have any tips or suggestions, please comment and let us know!

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