Family matters: how to support employees with children during work from home?

“Every day feels like a Monday,” BBC columnist Alina Dizik summed up her days now that she and her husband have two new colleagues (or shall we say, bosses) in the office. One’s seven and the other one’s four. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, parents all over the world have found themselves in the same boat – and in all sorts of new roles, from maths teacher to dinner lady. And bringing their A game to each and every one of them is no easy feat. Here are a few tips on how you can help them manage the near impossible. 

  1. Let it go

“You should get used to the idea of children crashing your weekly team meeting these days,” says Dr Ádám Márky, creator of vállalati egészségprogramFitpuli’s mindfulness module. “Don’t feel bad because your kids interrupt your working hours or roll your eyes if other people’s kids do the same,” he continues. But if you’re a parent, it’s best to let your colleagues know what to expect. “If you have a conference call and know there might be some unavoidable noises in the background, call attention to it at the beginning of the conversation. This way if or when it happens, people are a little more prepared and not as thrown off by the distraction,” workplace communication expert Alissa Carpenter advises

  1. Forget efficiency

Or at the very least, let’s not aim to be super productive during stay-at-home days. “This is not the time to expect top performance from your colleagues. We’re mentally and psychologically drained enough as it is, so let’s focus on coping with this situation the best we can,” Ádám points out. Behavioural scientists Laura M. Giurge and Vanessa K. Bohns also advise against giving in to the pressure to perform. “According to some estimates, the average knowledge worker is only productive on average three hours every day, and these hours should be free of interruptions or multitasking. Even before Covid-19, employees found it difficult to carve out three continuous hours to focus on their core work tasks. With work and family boundaries being removed, employees’ time has never been more fragmented.”

  1. Mind the border

Speaking of separating your work life and life-life, creating realistic boundaries is crucial. And parents might need to create entirely new ones. With schools and nurseries closed, don’t assume that co-workers with kids can keep the same 9-to-5 schedule as before. A colleague who used to power through their work tasks during caffeine-fuelled morning hours might only find time to concentrate during their toddlers’ afternoon nap from now on.

No wonder that some companies have started co-creating new schedules with employees based on when they  would prefer to be in “on” or “off” mode. These schedules are shared with the whole team to manage expectations about each other’s availability. It’s also important to respect these boundaries on both sides. “Even if you feel the urge to reply to a work email after you’ve signed off, don’t. It’s never a good idea to let frustration dictate how you spend your time,” Ádám says.

  1. How am I today?

Taking care of employees’ physical and mental health has never been more in the spotlight than these days. Especially because many of them have to take care of others’ well-being, too. “We can’t share with others a resource that we lack ourselves,” executive coaches Whitney Johnson and Amy Humble point out. “The critical starting point is to take our own mental health temperature. How am I doing? What will help me combat anxiety? Am I drinking, eating, or sleeping, or crying too much? What do I need to do to stay connected?”

Company-wide health programmes, pulse surveys, fitness challenges and virtual meditation sessions are all great ways to help employees keep their health in check while they work from home. Simply asking them to share how they’re holding up, with or without kids, is a great place to start. According to Ádám: “It’s totally fine to feel a bit off, frustrated, sad or angry in these uncertain times. Accept the current situation for what it is and try to spend as much time as possible doing what makes you feel good.”