If you are used to working from home, you may already have a good routine. If you have a family, you might have reliable childcare and school factored in. But how does it feel now that schools are closed again and childcare support is limited to bubbles and key workers?
Last Lockdown, I struggled with feeling like I had to be everything to everybody, all at the same time. The lines became blurred between work meetings from home, supporting the children’s adjustment to online learning, isolation from friends, and trying to get some exercise when, frankly, I’d rather hibernate.
I can fantasise about everyone sticking to a timetable without charging into my Zoom meeting demanding snacks or help with algebra. This time, expectations need to be lower, and kinder to all of us. If reality means your toddler needs attention or your teen is overwhelmed by assignments, the broadband is snapping under the weight of Zoom calls and sneaky YouTube viewing, the standard How To guides on work-life balance are irrelevant. Right now, coping might be all you can manage to preserve your sanity. And that’s ok.
Here are some thoughts on creating real-life boundaries to help get through the rest of lockdown and ease back into the new normal, whenever that may be.
Make arrangements with your boss to adjust your hours around childcare responsibilities and be clear about your availability so colleagues understand – perhaps with an out-of-office message. You won’t be the only one with this dilemma and it is reasonable to ask.
Finding a space to work might be tricky if you’re all at home. Try to create defined zones for everyone to make their own and don’t worry about the upheaval – it’s temporary. You can find a work corner with a laptop, desk and chair; the kitchen table for schoolwork; some rugs and toys for little ones who need you near. Make friends with the telly. Put a jigsaw out for everyone to have a go as they pass by.
Does ‘commuting’ to work by going for an early walk sound idealistic? The kids need fresh air, so take them with you if you can drag them out of bed before their ‘school’ day and spend time hearing about their favourite online game or Netflix show. Or get them outside for ‘PE’. Our neighbour gets the kids into PE kit for a run around the driveway with their scooters.
How many memes of guys in suits from the waist up does it take to suggest we could relax a little? But changing into ‘work’ clothes can focus the mind and show when you’re in work mode. My trackies certainly earn their keep after the laptop has been shut away.
Timetables are great for creating structure and security – even if they’re just based on mealtimes. If your kids are doing school online, help them map out their schedule each day. If they can’t finish the work set in the time it’s supposed to take, tell their teacher. They’re probably having similar issues.
If you and your partner are both working from home, tell each other when your meetings are so you can both be on hand for the kids. We send blank meeting slots to each other’s work calendar so the children aren’t left to their own devices for too long. This does mean we share the load although it’s harder some days than others.
Drop your cleaning standards – just for a while. If you’re making three meals plus snacks each day the kitchen will be busy. Leave the big jobs until after dinner. Banish messy play to outside or leave it for weekends so you aren’t stressed about clearing that up as well.
Clear away the work and school stuff when you’ve finished work for the day. If you can’t close the door on it, at least tidy up and close the laptop so it’s not calling to you when you need to focus on family life.
Having a consistent start time, regular breaks and end to school and work time help the Monday to Friday. Define the weekend with a different schedule, Friday-night pizza, a lie-in or lazy Sunday brunch. We’ve had weekend family challenges – dressing up, silly games, and even a pretend ‘day trip’ to Holland, complete with airport delays, cheese tasting, learning to count to 20 and a trip to the tulip fields.
Book time off work and don’t store up all your holiday. Now, more than ever we need time to switch off. Be strict with yourself and leave work where it is so you get a proper break.
Hopefully some of these tips may help you get through the remaining weeks of Lockdown. So many work calls have been interrupted by glimpses of family life, employers and colleagues are starting to appreciate we are all real human beings with lives outside of work. I hope we all remember that when things go back to ‘normal’.