43 days. That's how long I've been working from home now and yes, that includes weekends. Honestly, for the most part, they are all one and the same. In addition to learning a new role and managing a team that is now all 100% remote, I have also become a kindergarten teacher overnight for my 5-year-old.
I recognize that I am not the only professional nor the only parent experiencing this overwhelming change. Over the last 6 weeks, I've put together a list of tips and tricks to share with other parents working from home. Here is my top ten for how to be effective at home while balancing the needs of work and family.
- Feed them semi-regularly
In all seriousness, what this entire experience has given me is perspective. There are no tips and tricks for balancing work and kids during this time. We are all in survival mode and you know what? It is perfectly ok if all you can focus on is the next 24 hours. The biggest thing I've learned over the last few weeks is how important it is to work for a company that actually cares about its employees.
I was on a call the other day (camera turned off, I couldn't be bothered to style my usual hair or makeup) with most of our Executive Team, our Mimeo Photos Leadership Team, reviewing some new features we are working on when my daughter interrupted.
Her ask was simple, “Can I do some chores, Mom?” My response was eager like most parents on any atypical or typical day, “Absolutely! What a great way to help mom out!” A moment later I look over, this kid is dusting our piano. Of all the chores like to pick up her dolls, make her bed, she decides THAT is the right time to dust our piano.
For a moment I am horrified, what if I have to go off mute and all my coworkers hear is random piano keys ruthlessly banging. Then mid-sentence, I hear another leadership member on the call turn and calmly address his child who had just wandered into the room. He was very nonchalant about it, tender even, just a part of our new normal.
Fast forward to this morning. On a call, our CEO made sure we all knew it was healthy to take a personal day if we needed it. We should feel comfortable letting our leadership know if there is ever a day we need to unplug because that is fine! So rather than a list of tips and tricks that really just involve a list of unrealistic activities and expectations for working parents (literally no one I know is making slime don't feel bad) here are a few things that really are important over the next several weeks.
1. Set Healthy Work Boundaries
I know how hard it is to disconnect. I moved my kitchen table to make room for my workspace so it is sometimes too easy to just sit down and respond to “one more” email. It is incredibly important you power down at the end of the evening to reshift your focus on yourself and your family. Without being able to fully stop you will feel like everything just merges together
2. Take a Break in the Middle of the Workday When You Need It
I schedule a time for my daughter and me to walk every day in the mid-afternoon. Sure, I could try and power through more of my work, but she will get restless and I'll get frustrated. In this cycle, by the end of the day, we are both in a worse state.
Whether it is a workout, zone out in front of the TV, or social media deep dive, cut yourself some slack, and take a mental break. Your afternoon and evening will thank you.
3. Wake Up More Than 15 Minutes Before Your First Call
The days I put on pants that don't have a stretchy waist are actually my most productive. We will all have days that we end up wearing the same thing we woke up in, but occasionally throw a day in there where you put on pants with a zipper.
4. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
This one may be tough, but don’t compare yourself to what others are doing. It’s a waste of your time and energy. Focus on the things YOU can control. It doesn’t matter if Susan down the street has her kids go on a nature walk and cooking dinner with vegetables harvested during the outing. Or if Ken is now running 10 miles a day and “feels better than ever!” You do YOU!
5. Understand Everyone’s Core Working Hours
This one is especially for those that are people managers or members of a larger team. Give each other a heads up when you’re offline, but create an environment where your team feels comfortable telling you that. Flexibility is going to be key here along with open and honest communication. It will foster an environment of trust and create a stronger team when we do eventually return to an office.
Final Thoughts as a Parent and a Professional
It is fair to say the common theme here is to stop putting extra stress on yourself that is completely unnecessary. House a bit messy? It can wait until tomorrow. Haven’t worked out in a few days? Do a few lunges on the way to the fridge. Today, your mental health and well-being are more important than ever. If you work for a company that has touted their core values as taking care of their employees now is time to make sure they practice what they preach. I feel so fortunate to work for Mimeo Photos and for a leader that genuinely cares for his employees well being.
Remember this is much like the newborn phase, it will pass. The kids will go back to school, you’ll be back in an office, and routines will settle back down. And I promise, your spouse, your kids, your dog, your mother, are all not judging you nearly as much as you think they are.
My daughter told me she had the best day ever the other day because we went on two walks instead of one. The only reason we went on several walks was that I was on the verge of tears otherwise. So trust me, you are doing great and your family loves you for it.