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Just like any job situation, there are pros and cons to teleworking. These ring true whether it is your normal gig or you suddenly find yourself working from home due to the Cornavirus. Many of you have been thrust into the telecommuting work force unawares. Global Workplace Analytics tells us that roughly 5 million Americans (3.6% of the workforce) worked from home in 2018 but suggest that close to 60% of us ACTUALLY COULD work from home. Looks like we are about to put those numbers to the tests. So, on behalf of those of us who have been telecommuting awhile, we welcome you. Put on your soft pants and buckle up.
Like many aspects of both work and parenting, telecommuting to spend more time with your children and have flexibility (or telecommuting because you are socially responsible and wanting to maintain social distance), can be very Dickensian: the best of times, the worst of times. You get to be with your kids all the time! Yipee! You are with your kids all. the. time. OMG. The commute to your dining room office is a breeze!!! You never get to leave the house again. But we are all adults here, so let’s take a beat to ponder the pros and cons of our current work from home situation*. In truth, these pros and cons are applicable pandemic or not.
Most telecommuting jobs offer flexible scheduling or pay-per-gig type work, which removes the shackles of the traditional nine-to-five workday. This freedom allows you to work around nap schedules, dentist appointments, softball practice, and piano. You can walk them to and from the bus stop and attend parent-teacher conferences.
The time you gain from working from home is invaluable. It is estimated that a telecommuting parent gets an extra 11 days with their children simply from working from home full-time. Those pockets of time you squeeze in between conference calls, the 10 minutes of hoops, or laughs over post school milk and cookies are life giving.
Sure, sometimes you will miss a game due to a meeting, but by and large the Cat Stephens song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” song won’t apply to you. You are engaged.
ProTip: Also schedule time for yourself and your friends. When not under quarantine, shoot hoops or “do lunch”. An hour a week with friends and peers will be life giving as well.
Work flexibility is great. You can work around your kids’ schedule. But this can also lead to lack of productivity. You need to work and provide for your family, so you may need to recruit help from time to time. Do not feel pressured to be a full-time employee and full-time parent all by yourself.
The truth is, as a telecommuting parent, you are constantly tempted to delay work for your kids. Your kids are rightly your top priority and it feels HORRIBLE saying, “I can’t; I’m working” 500 times a day. But boundaries must be set and schedules maintained, in order to avoid stress and missed deadlines.
Telecommuting requires self-discipline, efficiency, and time management skills. It is critical to establish a work schedule for each day and structure your home life accordingly. Be mindful that with kids, what works this week may not work next week, but just keep trying.
ProTip: Outsourcing things like childcare, housekeeping, or yard work may not be possible under current Coronavirus conditions but can be a game changer in a typical work from home climate. I have what I call my “fractional wife” a mere 9 hours a week to help with my brood of 4 and we drown when she cannot come. From snacks to spelling lists to supervising chores to laundry to teaching my kids to cook, those 9 hours buy my weekend and sanity back.
This is a no- brainer. You no longer have to take off work when little Johnny is sick. You can take your child to the doctor, pick up meds, give kisses and snuggles and provide all the wet washcloths to foreheads as needed. You can set him up with Disney + in your family room as you work in the kitchen.
You can also plan your work around holidays and snow days without sacrificing income. Depending upon the type of work you do, you may be able to swap hours on weekends for hours during the week. Once you establish yourself as reliable and industrious, you employer may grant you the autonomy to arrange your schedule as you see fit. I often try to front load my weeks knowing that I am most productive after days of rest, and it also gives me the freedom to ease into my weekends a little early on Friday afternoons.
ProTip: If you are sick, back away from the computer. Yes, yes, you can drag your laptop into bed. But a week’s worth of crummy strep throat work does not serve anyone well. Take a day or two off if you are sick. Sleep. Drink your fluids.
Under usual circumstances, one of the biggest appeals of working from home is increased time with family. But sometimes it feels like because you work from home, you never leave the office. The constant having to say, “Not right now/I’m working/Maybe later/after this last call” wears on a parent. Sometimes you may physically be in the room, but you may as well be in an office across town.
This is when time management skills come to play. This is super hard under quarantine conditions when your whole family is working at the dining room table. But the ability to commit to a schedule and have focused deep work can save everyone. It is also helpful to have a home office if you can. That way they know when you are at work. Your kids will still know you are at home, sure, but that you are at work. So work when it is time to work. Expect disruption, but let your kids know the schedule, so they can set appropriate expectations. And then, when it is time to not be at work, repeat after me: DO NOT BE AT WORK. Back away from the laptop. Turn off notifications. Set that away status.
ProTip: There is no pro tip. No one does this perfectly. But if you extend yourself and your kids some grace, your kids may just learn a proper work ethic and that they needn’t be the center of attention all the time.
In light of Coronavirus and all of us staying home, this may not be applicable as we would all now pay 5 million dollars for someone to help us homeschool our children and maybe not look at them for five minutes. And that is a conservative estimate.
According to Care.com, the average weekly spend on child care is over $200 per child, with variants based upon age and whether it is in home care or in a child care center. Child care is expensive. The Economic Policy Institute reports that child care often costs more than college tuition, so for many American families, child care does not make financial sense. You can still hire a babysitter to watch your little ones part time or full-time while you work from home. In home care is often more affordable as the caregiver uses your resources, such as food, water, toys, etc. Plus, if you hire a family member, close friend, or neighbor, your children will develop stronger relationships with the important people in your life.
ProTip: You are working from home and will be there. Do not overlook those middle and high school kids on your cul-de-sac as childcare. This is an excellent opportunity to employ a mother’s helper. Even if just for a few hours in the afternoon, that will buy you some focused deep work time for relatively low cost.
As everyone is learning while taking Coronavirus Social Distancing measures, humans were built for connection. We crave it. And frankly, telecommuting can be horrifically lonely sometimes. Your soft panted work life may look luxurious to your friends, but you face challenges just like anyone else. You may sometimes feel “out of the loop” and miss out on those water cooler conversations. After all, you didn’t get to see what Karen wore to that one client meeting that was so inappropriate. It will require intentionality and the heavy use of online collaborating tools to combat this. Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts and texting will be your lifeline to your co-workers.
If you are working irregular hours, you may feel that you are always on the clock. Especially if you are using late nights and weekends to “catch up” or just “tidy up” your inbox. The threat of worker burnout is very real for the teleworker. I know personally my boss has had to command me to step away from my laptop when she senses I am operating on too little sleep and too little human connection.
ProTip: Practice routine self-care to battle the isolation crazies. Instead of messaging your boss incessantly, pick up the phone and call her. Schedule lunch “Meetings” with your kids. And turn off your phone. Just BE. Your co-workers are now your children. And you are HR. So you can totally send them to their room or turn off the WiFi if they disobey protocol.
Most teleworking articles will preach that you should shower and dress everyday as though you were going to the office. I don’t know who these writers are, but they should be ignored.
Okay, only partially ignored. Yes. You should maintain hygiene and such for your routine and sanity. You will feel better about yourself if you get dressed. But getting dressed does not have to mean business attire or even business casual. One of the huge perks of working from home is the lack of need for an entire business wardrobe. You can get by on a few business items. You will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I am even a fan of what I call the business attire mullet. Work up top, jammies down below. You know, for video conference calls.
ProTip: Jammies are awesome. Soft pants are awesome. But if you always wear an elastic waist band, more than just that waistband is going to expand. Opt for pants you have to button on a regular basis; it’ll help you keep your quarantine snacking in check.
When work gets overwhelming, it is very easy to turn to household chores for distraction. Work out of control? SHOW THOSE DISHES WHO IS BOSS! However, your employer does not care if the clothes in your closet are organized according to the electromagnetic spectrum no matter how lovely we all know ROYGBIV can be. You need to compartmentalize housework from income-producing activities and prioritize discipline. Emergency house issues like leaks and fallen trees obviously are an exception, but work assignments MUST supersede daily chores such as vacuuming and emptying the dishwasher.
(You are welcome. You just read online you do not have to do your chores. This is clearly a fact that cannot be ignored.)
ProTip: Housework is something that absolutely can be delegated, especially to your children. There are chores that are appropriate for every age. Preschoolers can pick up toys. Kindergartners can fetch the mail, feed the dog, and unload the dishwasher. Third graders can pack lunches and fill the dishwasher. Sixth graders can do their laundry and mow the lawn. How do I know? My kids do these things on the regular and it could be argued that they while they are the sweetest, they are also the laziest humans on the planet.
The perk of teleworking, in times of pandemic or times of calm, is that you get to be CEO of your own life. You get to set your own schedule, prioritize what works best for you and your family, and really take advantage of your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. The key is to set a schedule, maintain contact with those who matter, and cut yourself some slack when things go sideways.
*To get to stay home to work, even amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, is a gift. I would be remiss to not salute the brave men and women for whom telecommuting is not an option and yet they continue to go to work despite the risk: doctors, nurses, firefighters, policemen and women, grocers, truck drivers, cashiers, and postal workers. My hope is that a silver lining of all of this is that our culture shifts to value and pay adequately those men and women who have kept us afloat. All of us here at PIM and MPWRSource encourage you to do your part in social distancing while still finding way to support local businesses like restaurants and retailers who face serious challenges amid the Coronavirus crisis.
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