Working from Home During a Pandemic

By Melanie Stehmeier

Working from home is a new reality for most of us right now. For many families it has frequently raised issues related to a lack of time and space.  Here are some tips for on how to manage your ‘home office’ and also how to optimise your personal efficiency:

EXPECTATIONS

  • Set your expectations with your employer.  What work are they expecting from you and what work is less of a priority (what is essential and what is desirable)? What will yield the most impact? How much flexibility do they have? Can they accommodate flexible working hours, for example?
  • Set your expectations of what you can and can’t expect of yourself.  Instead of ‘working from home’, you are ‘at home during a crisis and trying to work’.  
  • Set your expectations of what you can and can’t expect of your partner.  Have a strategy meeting and see yourselves as two team members; what resources do you have and what challenges will you face and therefore how best should you allocate your time? Partly to do with the amount of work you have, but also the other commitments e.g. exercise/cooking/being in charge of kids. How do you split the time available to you both? What things should you let go of right now? This discussion should be irrespective of earnings, as work provides an income but also provides many more benefits, which both partners should enjoy.
  • Set your expectations for your family.  How many hours of home schooling do you need to do? How many hours of screentime are your kids allowed? How many meals should be cooked from scratch? How tidy should your home be? How often should you change your clothes? How much time should your kids be expected to play independently?  How should they know who to come to if needed? Etc.

 

Things to remember:

Your and your family’s physical, mental and emotional health are far more important than anything else right now.  

Don’t compensate for lost productivity with more hours. Your success will not be measured in the same way as when things are “normal.”

 

WEEKLY and DAILY PLANS

 

  • Imagine each member of your household is your co-worker and have a Sunday Evening Meeting to create a visual plan for the week, marking out all of your ‘co-worker’s’ essential commitments
  • Consider what space and time each commitment requires and sort the different responsibilities according to essential vs desirable and inflexible vs flexible. Colour code each type of appointment for clarity.
  • Every evening, have a quick run through of the next day and write out a visual/more detailed schedule.  
  • Be explicit and open about the workload you are facing, e.g. if you have a particularly easy or heavy day ahead. We can’t read minds, even with our nearest and dearest.
  • Then add in:
  • First, write in any essential/inflexible appointments (e.g. conference calls/lessons/nap times/meal times) for all of your family members
  • Second, add in desirable/inflexible appointments (e.g. bootcamp, group zoom calls)
  • Third, add in the essential/flexible tasks (e.g. work time, school tasks, time outside)
  • Fourth, add in the desirable/flexible tasks (e.g. creative activities, puzzle time) 
  • If both parents are working, take turns to use the ‘office space’.  Try to have one hour time slots as a minimum, as under one hour is unproductive
  • When allocating your work time, think about each other’s work demands and your personal energy levels: are you a ‘night owl’ or ‘morning bird’? Use morning times (e.g. before 9.30am and meal times because at this point only one parent needs to be present)
  • Make sure you block time for exercise, self-care, and assign a leader for different household tasks e.g. who is cooking lunch, etc
  • Highlight to your children the times when you are ‘off-limits‘ e.g. calls

 

STRUCTURING YOUR HOME ENVIRONMENT

  • You need a separate work space so that you can separate your work and your family life.  Create an ‘office’ for you and your work things. Ideally in a separate office, but it could be a desk in your bedroom. Somewhere with a door than can be closed, away from your family
  • Use an ‘open/closed’ sign or keep the door open when you can be interrupted and closed when you are not to be disturbed
  • Tell your kids when you are handing over parenting responsibilities, so they know who to go to
  • Teach your kids to slide notes under the door if they need you
  • If a separate room is not possible, then have a work ‘area’ or corner, and some work-props such as a hat to wear to make it visible to children when you are/ are not working. Use ear plugs to block out distractions, as being able to work with focus is key to efficiency

 

BEING PRESENT

  • Now, more than ever, when you are with your kids, try to be emotionally present and available to them. Turn your phone off and spend time with them.  Not only is this great for reducing their anxiety and building their self-esteem, but also, after spending time fully present with them, they will be more likely to give you space to get on with your work
  • If being on your phone working whilst with your kids is unavoidable, explain to them what you are doing so they can make sense of it

BEING EFFICIENT 

Generally we are more efficient:

….in the mornings and get less efficient as the day goes on, so assign more complex work tasks earlier in the day
….when we monotask rather than multitask, so to maximise your work efficiency you should work without distractions – our phone being our biggest distraction – wherever possible
….if we follow the 80:20 rule, which says we get 80% of our work done in 20% of our (fully focused) time. If you could comfortably carve out 20% of your working time, would getting 80% of your work done seem reasonable at this point? 

 

IN SUMMARY

So let’s go back to my first point about expectations: be realistic with yourself and your employer, your partner, and your kids about what you can and can’t achieve.  

Remember, we are at home during a crisis, trying our best to keep things ticking over with work. 

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  There is the real possibility that this situation could continue for some time to come, so prioritise your and your family’s well-being.  

This is uncharted territory.  There are no rights and wrongs during a pandemic.  

Have lots of family meetings to talk about what is going well and what isn’t, and how you can support each other to get through this as easily as possible.  

 

GOOD LUCK!

 

Image from iOSMelanie Stehmeier is mum to two school-aged kids, married to a very un-German German.  She juggles working independently as a therapist and part-time at one of the International Schools in Munich.  She is typically British, and despite living abroad for over 14 years, struggles to speak any other languages. Melanie is happiest in a Biergarten with friends and hates Coronavirus for having ruined that! Melanie truly believes in the value of laughter, fun, and kindness, and is trying her best to keep hold of these values during these strange times, in spite of cohabiting full time with some terrible flatmates/co-workers.

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