Johannes (Engineer) and Alina (Product Owner) both had plenty of weeks during the pandemic when they were working full time with no childcare facilities available. They share the fails and wins they experienced during the past year, which will also be a valuable lesson for when things eventually get back to (new) normal again.
Johannes‘ FAIL: Thinking it’s possible to work and take care of kids simultaneously
„Daddy, why won’t you play with me? Don’t you like me anymore?“
This is what my 4-year-old son said to me a few weeks into the first lockdown in April 2020. I was sitting on the floor of his room und tried to play with him while simultaneously supporting a team member in a Teams call. My mic was on and I am sure my son’s voice was clearly audible. At this point, I should have realized that it is simply impossible to take adequate care of young children while working at the same time. My son built this out of LEGO, which illustrates this impossibility quite nicely:
He said to me: „Look daddy, this is how one can sleep und work at the same time!“. I have two strategies for you which helped me to reduce the time in which I was conflicted between working and taking care of my son.
Johannes‘ WIN: Less meetings
Being in meetings while your kids are next to you can be extremely stressful. They might suddenly require your immediate attention and therefore place you into potentially embarrassing situations. This is why I stopped setting up meetings but instead created a text chat. This way, everyone can participate asynchronously and often the topic gets resolved before scheduling a meeting becomes necessary. Due to the effectiveness of the text chat, I was even able to cancel already scheduled meetings. If it can’t be resolved via text chat then you still have the option of holding a meeting, but it will be more focused and shorter because everybody is already on the same page.
Johannes‘ WIN: Talk to your team and work whenever possible
Right after sending all employees to work from home, Interhyp issued a statement that all employees with kids are allowed to work at any time during the day and on weekends. During the first lockdown, I was very hesitant to actually take advantage of this freedom. I felt that I was betraying my company and letting down my colleagues by not being available during normal working hours. In January 2021, my wife was writing her bachelor’s thesis and I had to take care of my son almost full time. This was the point at which I had no choice but to also use the night hours to work. I openly told my team about the situation and about my reduced availability. Finally, I managed to go to the playground with my son in the afternoon without a guilty conscience. This was the biggest win for me in mastering the work-life-family balancing act during the pandemic.
If working while having the kids around is unavoidable, inevitable and necessary you can read Alina’s experiences on this topic. Alina has two daughters, one of which just turned two and the other is nearly five years old at this moment and since May 2020 Alina is back@work mostly without childcare for alternately one child.
Alinas WIN/FAIL: Be creative in times when trying to minimize disturbances
If you are used to having a child around you are also used to some small interruptions while working. Nevertheless, there may be meetings, where your child is an unwanted distraction for you for e.g. in an important meeting with the CEO …). In that case, I used some tricks to occupy the kids which I learned from long train rides before Corona. The easiest it to let them watch some cartoons, which is fine for my kids and our parenting style. If you need to be bullet proof about the kids being occupied, then I use two more tricks. I prepare some sweets or ice cream, and exactly calculated the time the kids needed to finish their distractions. To further prevent the worst case from happening, I also prepare some toys or sweets in between the location of my child and myself, so there was a small chance that on the way to me they get distracted and I can finish the meeting. Luckily those meetings are an exception in my case.
Alinas FAIL: You can’t be in charge all the time
No matter how short the period is where your child is unsupervised, the consequences might be unpleasant or even severe. Artworks in the flat, a cake in the oven, a new haircut or just the normal mess are just some of the possible scenarios. My daughter actually managed to do a new haircut in less than 5 minutes on a day, where everything seemed to be under control, so my learning is: „Childcare while working: It’s never under control“!
Alinas WIN: Use tools and communicate openly with your kids and colleagues
Working on a computer next to your child can be fun for your small child for example if your child can hit some keys on an old laptops of yours and thinking that you are working together. Friendly colleagues can also say hello to you child if you are in a meeting, which can also be fun. Hiding a child was never a strategy I followed, even if the small one was sleeping in the baby carrier I put the camera on so the colleagues could see why I was talking quietly.
In summary, my children did get a lot of friendly hello’s and I got a lot of support, so I think that transparency and having nice people (digitally) around is my biggest WIN.
Lastly, I would like to share a helpful tip with you: Since August I had a Bluetooth headset, so I could check on my kids while participating in meetings, or have the child on my lap without an annoying wire. It is also very useful because it can be easily muted and therefore you can talk to the people in the meeting and @home nearly simultaneously. We can recommend the Jabra Evolve 75 and Evolve2 65 Bluetooth headsets.
After having shared our own insights on working remotely with kids, we look forward to read about your WINs and FAILs on this matter!