The (remote) working parents' perspective: Balancing work, kids and everything else

The (remote) working parents' perspective: Balancing work, kids and everything else

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Despite it being one of the most fulfilling, being a parent was never an easy job. In this exclusive by Aditi Sharma Kalra, hear straight from these five HR leaders on their coping strategies to get work done while keeping their children happily and gainfully occupied.

Despite it being one of the most fulfilling, being a parent was never an easy job. And it only got harder once COVID-19 hit, forcing schools and offices into lockdown.

Many households saw parents allocating the use of the family laptop for home-based learning (HBL) or finding a blank wall or tidy room to use on their Zoom calls, all while trying to keep their children gainfully occupied without having access to outdoor playtime to expend all that energy.

If you feel like you’ve been and still are in this situation, you are definitely not alone.

In an exclusive, Human Resources Online spoke to HR leaders around the world, many of whom are working parents, and found out how they have been maintaining productivity while working from home with children. We also tried to pin down how they have shifted their actions as their kids remain home longer than expected. Read on for perspectives from working parents based in Singapore, Israel, India and Malaysia.

Ilja Rijnen, HR Director, EX, Learning & Change International, Beam Suntory
Protip: Work before the kids rise, shorten your meetings, and plan time to energise

Let’s first of all acknowledge that working from home can already be a real challenge without having any children around, says Ilja Rijnen, HR Director, EX, Learning & Change International, Beam Suntory. Interestingly, his suggestion to stay high-performing during a pandemic is the same approach as under any large change project – have a great sense of flexibility and adaptability so you are able to change your approach to the changing needs under a pandemic.

For him, this starts by creating a cadence and principles around working from home. “Identify things you can influence yourself – set work slots at times when you expect lesser disturbance. Being an early bird, I start work at 6am and would have clocked in two hours before waking the kids up. I get a similar two hours from 8-10pm after the kids have gone to bed. This gives me a lot more flexibility during the day.”

During the workday, he reminds us to be nice and reasonable to ourselves and our environment.

“The truth is that everyone is going through major change, and we will have times when frustrations or challenges will drain you. Plan some time during each day to re-focus and energise yourself.”

This time can come in expected bonuses, for instance, by shortening meetings (i.e. from 60 to 45 min or from 30 to 20 min). Says Rijnen, “While this probably won’t impact the output of your meetings, it will allow you time in between to tend to children, or freshen up and re-energise your mind before the next meeting starts.”

Rijnen stresses that depending on the age and needs of your children, principles should also be in place with your family members.

“Be clear when children can come to ask for support and when to leave you – it does help to have a clearly separated office space / room, so the children understand when you are available and when to leave you alone,” he shares. “Where both parents work, try to agree with your spouse on flexible hours during the day when one will take the lead (i.e. with HBL or kids misbehaving). In fact, these tasks can also be delegated to the older kids.”

Nirit Peled-Muntz, CHRO, Hibob
Protip: Take care of yourself as a caregiver – eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep

First and foremost, make sure you are creating a routine! “Plan the family day and set a clear agenda for your kids to provide structure so they know when you are available,” remarks Nirit Peled-Muntz, CHRO, Hibob.

It’s critical to choose a dedicated workspace - preferably one where you can close the door and focus, while factoring in fun and quality time during breaks you get from work.

Further, for working parents it might be wise to align on a schedule with your manager so you’re able to get that quality time with your children for a couple of hours throughout the day, and finish outstanding work on the off-hours.

Nirit also urges caregivers to take care of themselves – whether that’s by eating healthy, exercising or getting enough sleep. “I always find ways to decompress and take breaks, which ultimately helps me become a better, more involved parent,” she says, adding: “Never be afraid to rely on help from your partner, family or a babysitter.”

Her final word of advice is surprisingly similar to what we’ve been saying in business meetings as well: “Always be prepared for unexpected situations and be ready to pivot.”

Kiran Yadav, Chief People Officer, Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance
Protip: Get a head start by starting your day earlier and set expectations with your manager

Start your day way earlier! “If you get two good hours before the universe gets to you - consider yourself successful. It doesn't matter if you blaze through you mails or exercise in that time, you will feel a winner irrespective and a sense of achievement will carry you through the day,” says Kiran Yadav, Chief People Officer, Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance. “A head start is absolutely critical to remain productive, else we are in a catch-up mode throughout the day.”

Setting expectations with managers is another important aspect. As such, Kiran affirms as long as you're committed to timelines and tasks, your actual delivery can be per your schedule.

While delivering your workload, she reminds everyone to set aside some me-time, including for children to do the same. “Despite all the bond-at-home literature, it’s not practical to be in each other's hair all the time.”

Kiran shares the importance of going back to work at office even if it is for a few hours each day. “With necessary care at a personal level and offices doing the needful for employee safety, we have to start normalising things and replicate our pre-pandemic lives in small measures to be better prepared. Weaning kids off from digital interfaces is another key activity being managed with carefully-curated play dates and park visits.”

Aice Ching, Head of HR, Mundipharma Pharmaceuticals
Protip: Explain the boundaries around work from home, while creating a play space for the kids

Working from home with two young kids is definitely challenging, admits Aice Ching, Head of HR in Mundipharma Pharmaceuticals. But it’s not impossible.

“It’s important to explain the boundaries. We had to explain that when we’re talking on the phone or have headphones on – it’s meeting time. Once we explained this, our five-year-old sometimes sat next to us with her toy laptop so she could feel like a part of the meeting as well.?”

Equally important, she says, is explaining why we are unable to go out as freely as before. “We constantly share news on the COVID-19 situation with our daughter so she can understand why she’s not able to go out – not even for her swimming classes.” Her tip is to make up for the time lost outdoors by involving the kids in other home activities such as cooking or gardening.

If your household allows the space, it would be a good idea to convert one room into a playroom for kids to play, read and colour on their own.

Aice shares: “Since we couldn’t go out, we invested in a small pool which fits in the balcony. It was definitely worth it seeing their happy smiles splashing around at home!”

David Andrew Jansen, Head People & Culture, Rotiboy Bakeshoppe
Protip: Give all family members their due space and understanding to get their work done

David Andrew Jansen, Head People & Culture, Rotiboy Bakeshoppe shares his work-from-home space with his wife, as their children are now working adults. Even so, he stresses on the importance of giving each other due space and understanding when it comes to work requirements.

“I can imagine for those who have young kids at home and have to juggle both at the same time, it can be challenging. Hence, time management is key,” he adds.

Having distilled insights from this incredible range of working parents, we’ve pieced together the following must-haves in your work-from-home kit. You may know and practise most of these already, yet we hope they serve as a timely reminder of what works well for your peers, and thus may work for you too in some form.

Working parents’ proven tips to be productive while working from home with children:

  1. Establish a cadence and routine – Allocate time to planning your day as a family, and follow through by maintaining that routine daily through the help of everyone in the household.
  2. Create spaces for work and play – If your home permits, have your workspace in an area where you can focus, and preferably close the door. Alongside, allocate a room or area for the kids to enjoy their independent playtime.
  3. Be clear about when the kids can disturb you – Let your kids know that headphones-on means Mummy is in a meeting, and in cases where both parents are working from home, allocate which parent will be available on an ad-hoc basis daily.
  4. Set expectations with your manager – You may be putting in the same hours as everyone else, but you may not be responsive during certain hours. Assure your manager that you are committed to the project, albeit your working hours may vary from the traditional nine-to-five.
  5. Allocate time for breaks – Setting up back-to-back meetings will leave all of us, parents or not, feeling drained. Strive to end that hour-long in just 45 minutes, leaving yourself and others breathing room to take a walk, refill that water bottle, or simply clear your mind.
  6. Role model the right behaviours – With the stress building up at work for all family members, it is important to be aware of how you deal with stress and ambiguity that comes with the pandemic, as children will mimic their behaviours on your responses they observe.
  7. Don’t hesitate to ask for help – No one can do everything on their own, so when you need help, don’t hesitate to ask your partner, spouse, parent, friend or babysitter for help, depending on what works for your situation.
  8. Try to get back a sense of normalcy – As the lockdown eases in some nations, getting back to the office is an important part of establishing a balanced routine for your children – if your situation and priorities allow you to.
  9. Take care of yourself – As caregivers, don’t forget about taking care of your physical and emotional health. Take time out to do the things you enjoy, whether it’s browsing articles, putting together a quick and easy meal, or simply a recharging nap.
  10. Be flexible and adaptable – We say it every day at work, but it works equally well in the home environment – be ready to pivot according to the situation, be it unplanned meetings or doctor’s visits.

Photos / Provided

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