I keep having the feeling of déjà vu. The working from home, balancing work and life, who’s-working-in-the-home-office-now situation that so many of us find ourselves in – I’ve been here before. Not for an extended period of time, and not with the current struggles, but my family has adapted to this pretty well. Last year, I spent the last month of my pregnancy working from home, so I was surprisingly prepared for this turn of events.
First, let me introduce the cast of characters. My husband, who is a freelance speaker, writer, and career coach, doesn’t have set hours. He does, however, have to be on video calls throughout the week that take place during the workday (which I’m defining here as 8AM – 5PM). I am a software developer, and while much of my work can be done independently, I need to be available for internal and external video calls during at least part of the workday. My son is six months old and has a very busy schedule of eating, playing, chatting, and sleeping – and needs constant supervision when he is not actually asleep.
Here are a few things we’ve learned – tips and tricks my family uses to balance our work, life, and family.
Set up your work time via shared calendars
Once a week, we have a family meeting. This has been a habit for years, but it’s crucial now more than ever. Over pancakes on Saturday morning, we go over the events for the week, the schedules, and even do some meal planning. Now that we’re balancing our own childcare and my working from home, we determine who is “on” and at what times – planning out the next two weeks, instead of our usual one. We have a family email account to which my husband and I both know the password, and that is our Single Source of Truth. All other calendars must be shared with this official family calendar, and this is also where we have “family” events (pediatrician appointments, trash day notifications, etc.). My husband and I have shared our respective work calendars to know when calls and independent work are happening (we’ve also shared our personal calendars, but I would need another whole additional post on family organization to cover that). We block off the times that each of us will be working. The person who is working gets to use the office space; the other one is “On Baby Duty (OBD).” We also refer to the blocks of time as “shifts,” and my colleagues are aware of the “shift change” – more on that later. When we block off our times, we consider the following:
- Meetings that don’t need to be attended shouldn’t be on the calendar.
- Which meetings cannot be moved or rescheduled? The rule of thumb is the meeting with the least amount of people gets rescheduled – it’s easier to find an agreeable time with two people rather than five.
- Which meetings can the baby attend (if absolutely necessary, such as a double booking)?
- How can we create the most continuous work time? It takes a lot of time and effort to switch between tasks (and the shift change), so instead of trading off every hour, we try to set aside three-hour minimums.
As you can see, we can both view all meetings. We have clear expectations on who is working and when. My coworkers can also see when I’m unavailable, as I’ve blocked off my calendar with “Raj Work.” There are a few meetings I attend while he’s working, but my teammates understand I may have to feed the baby, pick him up from nap time, etc. We’re all doing our best, and that means being accommodating to the human side of our colleagues.
We also plan on doing work in the evenings after bedtime, with the same rule that someone is OBD, and the other can be focused on work. The only hours we are not allowed to work are from 6 – 8PM (with a few rare exceptions) – that is our “family time” to make and eat dinner, and the three of us spend time together.
Set up your workspace
My husband and I have different optimum working conditions. I like to work in silence, or with general background noise. Music is a little distracting (unless I’m doing some development work, then Disney is usually blaring through my headphones) so I usually just leave the office door open if I’m not on a call. He, on the other hand, gets distracted by the noise so he always has his noise-cancelling headphones on if he’s not on a call. Do whatever works for you – try different things until one sticks. We have extra mice and keyboards, so we can type and do more detailed work when possible and use those both in our office and at the kitchen table.
I also have stacks of scrap paper, since I am constantly writing myself little notes, and when we have shift change, I take them all with me. But since I seem to be doing more context switching than normal, I’m utilizing a list-generating application now more than ever. For me, it’s simply a task tracker, with three lists: To-do, Doing, and Done. I have a few labels (so I can quickly see what project each task is for), and I can type in any extra notes I need. I have it as my homepage, so whenever I open my browser, there’s my list. It also gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I get to move the cards to each list.
Make hay while the sun shines (or work while the baby sleeps)
Our son was a terrible napper before the quarantine. Well, we dedicated time to the effort (what else were we going to do when we were each OBD?) and now we have two decent nap times per day. When the baby is napping, we do whatever we can in that time period – making hay while the sun shines, as the rural saying goes. Now, we can’t plan on nap time, but any work that does get done during nap time is considered “bonus” time.
Other “sunny” moments happen outside of the house, too. On our daily walks, the baby usually falls asleep, and at least once a week I have an impromptu status call with one or more teammates at that time. I don’t need to be next to my computer to be able to speak on the subjects, and we’re able to squeeze in a bit more productivity without sacrificing family quality time.
Appreciate your colleagues, and set expectations with them
My teammates let each other know when they will and won’t be available, and what time may be “tentative.” Those of us who aren’t able to work standard business hours block off our calendars appropriately, and we use Slack channels when an unexpected change arises. We understand what work can get done outside of the standard business hours and via email. A key component of expectation setting is letting your teammates and managers know what you will and won’t be able to accomplish. If unable to do all your work, be frank with your manager, so you can figure out a solution for everyone. Perhaps your company is open to using PTO, or you may want to use unpaid time instead of cutting into your evenings. Whatever the case, now is the time to collaborate and find solutions.
Let go of your expectations for a perfect anything
The word “unprecedented” has never been used more in my lifetime. We’re using it to describe the economy, the workplace, the healthcare system, global travel… every aspect of life. But we’re not using it where it matters – at home. This is the time to set a new (perhaps temporary) precedent. My baby wears his pajamas all day long? Unprecedented, and perfectly fine right now. My floor hasn’t been swept in an embarrassingly long time? Unprecedented and perfectly fine right now. Balancing work, home, childcare (if applicable), and health are a lot of work in normal circumstances, and these aren’t normal circumstances. Cut yourself some slack and do the best you can. If that means eating ice cream for lunch while you respond to emails, that’s perfectly fine right now.
Carlene Subrameyer is an OnBase Developer at Clarity Partners and, much like all members of our team, she is currently managing her entire workload from home. Here she outlines some smart examples of how she and her family are staying organized and productive during quarantine.