Working from home…it has such a different meaning during this coronavirus pandemic than it ever has done before. For some, the current situation will have had little impact on the way that they work but I think it’s safe to assume that for the majority working through a pandemic, this isn’t the case.
Personally, I’m lucky in that working from home is quite ordinary for me, but that was completely turned on its head the day that both the school and childminders shut their doors for the foreseeable future. Trying to work while looking after a four and one-year-old during that first week of lockdown was tough!! In fact, it was almost a relief when my husband was furloughed the week after, certainly not feelings I ever expected to have.
Sure, remote workers have been touted as being more motivated and higher performing than their office-based counterparts in the past, but these are not ordinary times. Working from home with children brings about its own challenges and it’s likely that many employees are facing extremely stressful times as they try to navigate their working day while taking on the extra full-time job of childcare.
But it doesn’t have to be quite so hard. Leadership has never quite been so important as is has in these times and employees will be looking to their managers and employers to guide them through and provide the necessary supplies and support. There are a number of necessary traits that leaders will need to demonstrate, but at a basic level, companies should at least be looking to do the following.
- Provide the proper equipment – None of us are strangers to internet issues and how they make you want to tear your hair out, especially when your patience is already wearing thin. Coupled with the fact that you’re hunched uncomfortably on the sofa and waving your laptop around like a paper aeroplane because you don’t want it to get ruined by sticky little fingers. Having the proper equipment for the job can make all the difference. Supplying remote workers with access to essentials such as adequate internet connectivity, printers, office equipment, even desks and chairs if possible, will have an immense impact on wellbeing and ability.
- Communication, communication, communication – I’d hope that this one would speak for itself but unfortunately too often it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Now more than ever it’s essential to keep the channels of communication open and create a community outside of the physical workplace. This applies not only to those working from home, but also to employees on furlough. For many working parents interacting with colleague’s accounts for a huge majority of their social interactions, particularly for those with young children whose social lives may be more restricted. Cutting off communications can have a big impact on mental wellbeing. Maybe it is still possible to go for that team building drink on a Friday evening or take part in the regular team quiz, albeit on a virtual basis. There is also the need to provide a listening ear to employees and provide them with the necessary support where possible. Leaders should be encouraging two-way communication in order to provide relief and keep on top of possible problems arising from additional pressures such as home schooling or IT troubles.
- Be flexible – Particularly for those of us with children as, speaking from experience, it is near impossible to work a strict 9-5 working day whilst caretaking. Sure I’ve worked with my children on my lap and fed them snacks to keep them quiet while I take phone calls, but I’ve also crept out of bed at the crack of dawn and worked late into the night while they slept as it’s the one real time I’ve been able to dedicate myself solely to work. But continuously working under these conditions poses the threat of burnout for us mere mortals. It may be that in these times deadlines may need to be shifted, or workloads cut back and it is the role of the leaders to provide the necessary support and guidance so that employees are clear on expectations.
- Relieve the pressure – As with the need to be flexible, employers have to have a greater amount of understanding during these times. It’s hard to concentrate on the task in hand when a child is pleading for attention. A parent’s instinct is to provide, and a great deal of guilt can come from that one little word…no. Though my small children have their own demands, I am thankful not to have the added pressure of trying to home-school them. Many parents now have the added stresses of educating their children. Fear is becoming an overriding emotion, not only about their own work performances but also the academic performance and the effect this situation is having on their education and mental wellbeing. Everyone is under a lot of pressure at the moment, if a little relief can come in the form of understanding or the shifting of deadlines and the increase in flexibility and communication, then we will all be the better for it.
These are unprecedented times and it looks as though it may be some time, if ever before life as we knew it resumes. Parents who either stay at or work from home have long been fighting for the recognition that they deserve, and I hope that this situation will prove to many organisations how dedicated and capable their employees truly are, and the skills that are learnt and enhanced from having children.
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