As the reality of the overnight shift to working from home continues to unfold it is not without its challenges. While we may think that employees or team members should have more time to work, now that they are not commuting, the reality is that they are still in a state of shock, haven’t yet found their feet with the new normal, are still adapting as individuals and families, and are actually working under extreme duress.
A company that strategically chooses the remote working option usually plans for it and does a dress rehearsal for 3 - 6 few months. This ensures that the technology works and enables them to help individual employees to iron out any crinkles and wrinkles with an understanding that each of them is working under unique conditions versus the standard conditions that apply to everyone who works in the same office environment. In a company office there are no children to cause distraction and interruptions, and everyone has access to the same devices, internet, a dedicated workspace and so much more. You can take a more standardized approach as a business owner or manager.
Here we are in Covid-19 lockdown with no dress rehearsal for remote working and we are all having to figure out the best way to make it work to ensure business continuity and productivity. This is neither ideal for business owners, managers and team leaders, or employees themselves. It demands a degree of patience and empathy with each other as well as honest communication to ensure stress levels are kept to a minimum and our expectations of ourselves and each other are realistic.
A typical example of where things are going pear-shaped would be this or a variation thereof:
“I am now working remotely from home with an 18-month old and a 4-year old and no domestic help. I am trying to find my feet and a new rhythm, but I am not there yet. My boss says that since I am no longer commuting for two hours a day, this is the perfect time to give me a new project to work on. He doesn’t understand that I have less time to focus and work than ever before. Help!”
Below I share some insights to help you be a little more empathetic with your team that is now operating under remote conditions. I promise that you will get more out of them this way.
What to take into consideration about your employees
- Know your individual employees – this is key:
- How many children are they be managing at home?
- What ages are their children?
- Do they still have live-in domestic help at this time?
- Are they a single parent?
- Do they have a spouse or partner who will be sharing the space with them over lockdown and can share childcare responsibilities?
- Understand that for people who have only spent 2 – 3 hours of awake time with their children on a normal workday, spending 12 hours of awake time per day is unfamiliar and challenging.
- Whilst most working parents usually carry a mantle of guilt because they don’t think they spend enough time with their children, now that they have been given more time with their children, albeit under the strangest of circumstances, they are pretty freaked out by it because of the implications on their productivity and not being used to spending so much time with their kids. I call it the Covid-19 Parenting Paradox.
- Your team members are working with:
- New schedules
- New systems
- New working environment, often without a dedicated home office
- New forms of interference including:
- Device sharing with children who are doing online schooling or with a spouse or partner
- Poor bandwidth or no data
- Emotionally, they are also in a state of:
- Parents working remotely from home are going to have very much longer days than normal, filled with many interruptions. They will have to do their work in chunks, often getting up to do it early before the children wake, or staying up late to do it after the children have gone to sleep. Having worked from home with children for 25 years, I know this for a fact.
What you need to know about children
- Children are not computers who can be programmed to run on their own or not interrupt their parents while they work.
- Children are also feeling frightened and anxious and will need more attention than usual from their parents – their routine has been turned upside down, they can’t see their friends, they are not going to school and they are stuck at home with parents who are stressed, need to work and are not much fun to be with.
- With regard to children’s ability to concentrate:
- Children are born with about a minute and a half’s concentration for every year of their life – they learn how to concentrate on activities for longer with adult interaction to keep them focused.
- Under the age of 7 children have a very short attention span and will not be able to do much without supervision for long – maybe 10 – 15 minutes at the most.
- Only by grade one can children focus for a full 20 minutes on an activity without much supervision.
- Children from birth to 3 years will need almost constant supervision unless they are sleeping.
- Children from 3 – 5 years of age may be able to entertain themselves for 10 - 15 minutes at a time, if you are lucky.
The daily reality for employees working at home with kids (particularly young ones)
- Any deep work for business that requires focus and attention to detail will need to be done before the children wake up in the morning and after they go to bed at night.
- During waking hours, they will only be able to handle small tasks in short bursts unless they have domestic help still available or they have a partner or spouse who is also working from home and they can do work and childcare/supervision in relays.
- This employee is going to be more exhausted than ever as they haven’t had much time to adjust to these new working and living conditions.
- Any employee right now is also feeling drained by the general feeling of panic and fear that is everywhere
- Many employees now working from home don’t have dedicated home offices with doors that close. They are having to work in their bedrooms or in common family areas which means they don’t have privacy or guaranteed peace and quiet. It is exhausting. I know because I am in a similar position. My workspace is right in the center of my home – on a normal day my eldest son is overseas and my youngest is away at university. Now they are all home and I have endless distractions and interruptions from gaming and TV to someone making a meal in the kitchen or walking past and wanting to chat. This is real life!
- Stress and tension are high.
Having read the above, if you are managing a team, I hope you can see that the challenges and demands that your team members with children are currently facing should not be underestimated or swept aside. You will need to be patient and tolerant as people settle into their new spaces. You will need to be empathetic and reasonable or your team members will crack. They need support and coaching as to how best to handle their workload in the context of their individual circumstances. Yes, you are taking on a parenting role here in a sense, but I have always believed that of team leaders and managers anyway. A team leader’s role, much like a parent’s, is to raise their team members to be independent, resourceful and resilient.
Advice for employees and team members
- Make sure you have a one-on-one meeting with your boss to explain your current work from home situation based on the above, if you have not already been consulted.
- Be realistic – don’t over-promise and under-deliver, no matter how fearful you are of losing your job.
- You will have to get deep work done that needs focus and concentration before or after hours:
- Early in the morning before your children wake.
- At night after they have gone to bed.
- I have worked from home for 25 years and have had children at different ages and stages throughout that time. I know how frustrating it is that you can’t get continuity and that you have to fit your work around your kids. This is real life and you will get use to it given enough time.
- You are going to need to do what I call ‘chunking’ – work hard, fast and with razor sharp focus for 60 – 90 minutes at a time once or twice a day. That’s about all you can expect if you have children under the age of 7. You will learn to be productive in less time than normal because that is all the time you have.
- You will need to play team tag if you are fortunate enough to have another adult in the home with you – take turns working and looking after the children, much like a relay.
- Create a dedicated work space if you can.
- If you need to be on Skype/Zoom calls with clients or colleagues work out the quietest place to do these from and use earphones too.
- You may need to pair up your children’s TV watching and gaming time to coincide with focused work or times you need to be in virtual meetings with no interruptions. Be strategic and make your children’s screen time work for you without leaving them in front of a screen all day.
- If you have limited devices in your home that need to be shared for work and educational purposes, you will need to draw up a schedule.
- Draw up a daily schedule for your family bearing in mind your workload.
- All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You will need to take time out during the day to play with, and interact with, your children. They need their emotional cups filled from time to time with hugs, stories and play. If they are running around with empty emotional cups they will resort to negative attention-seeking behavior – whinging, whining and complaining and getting themselves into trouble – just to get your attention. Find many quick and easy Boredom Busters activities on my learning through play website here to make you a parenting hero toytalk.co.za
Takeaways for Winning at Home and Life
- We are all human and we are walking a new and challenging path right now, getting used to new rhythms, routines and dynamics. Give yourself some time to bed down and find out what works for you. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Get clear with your team about what is realistic for you.
- Get clear with your family about how you are all going to make it work – together.
- Understand where your children are at in terms of their age and stage and what you can realistically expect from them in terms of what they can do by themselves.
- Download my family screen management strategy, The Money or the Box Game which will help you provide boundaries for your children in a fun way that makes sense for them so that they don’t become couch potatoes and learn how to make healthy media habits and choices if they are over the age of four. Download the Money or the Box Game here.
Takeaways for Winning at Work
- Whether you are leading a team or a team member, read all the insights I have listed above.
- Take responsibility for what you say you can deliver based on the above.
- Be flexible and creative. Dare to try new things in different ways to discover what is workable for you. What works in one family situation right now will be entirely different to what is workable in another. You are finding your way to workable for you.
- Share your experiences with other people in your team and beyond – we can learn from each other. You are not alone.
- Book me to present one of my online webinars for parents in your team who are long on love and short on time – it will serve as a good group parenting coaching session at the same time if there are less than 20 delegates.
While working remotely from home is possible, and necessary right now, no-one said it would be easy, especially when you haven’t had time for a dry run. This has all happened so quickly and some families will find it easier to adjust while others will take more time.
There needs to be an element of flexibility and empathy in your management style as you support your team to make the adjustments. Find out what you can do to help them. Every little thing counts and could increase productivity and engagement. Also bear in mind that, for some people, going to an office everyday is an escape and for others, who are extroverts, they need more people to fill their cup than they are going to have access to in their home office environments.
While you are apart from your team you are still ‘parenting’ them from a distance. The family model is a very powerful analogy for leading teams once you can see it. I hope that this article and this video will have brought it alive for you. Watch the parallels between work and life:
These times of crisis have come to test our mettle, our resilience and adaptability in more ways than one. Let’s be realistic in our expectations of each other and flexible in our approach. Keep communication channels open at this time so that you can do some customised team management, to lead your team through this crisis successfully.
Keep safe and may you be as productive as possible under the circumstances. Let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you win @ work and life
Nikki Bush is an expert at empowering individuals and teams to win at work, home and life. She has the knack of putting difficult, complex and sensitive topics on the table (ones we often prefer to avoid), and making them accessible, such as disruption, death, loss, team dynamics, sexuality education and your kids, money, parenting and so much more. You may have seen or heard her weekly slots on Radio 702 and SABC3’s Expresso.
Nikki has written four best-selling parenting books with major publishers, including her latest, Future-proof Your Child for the 2020s and Beyond, and she has fielded over 2 500 media interviews in the past 12 years. Nikki always speaks with passion, packs a powerful sound bite, provides valuable insights and will leave you with practical solutions to help you win at work and life.
For more information and a full length bio, visit www.nikkibush.com