The year is 2017, and an American academic and expert on Korean relations, Robert Kelly, is explaining politics live on BBC World from his home in South Korea. It seems like a straightforward telecommuting segment until his kids interrupt him in a boisterous and hilarious fashion, as kids are wont to do, and the clip goes viral. Fast forward to 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic means much of the global population suddenly find themselves in the same position as Kelly with the creation of millions of remote working parents around the world. Many of us who work at TWi are also parents. Here we share some tips on readjusting the work-life balance while on lockdown.
Information Design 101
As information designers at TWi, we use a technique known as chunking to classify the content based on what’s important to learn, and then group and organise the information. This can be adapted for telecommuting when the kids are at home. Look at your work, prioritise, then break it down into tasks. Assign each task 30-40 minutes. Explain that Mum and Dad have certain times where they are not to be disturbed unless in case of emergency and clarify exactly what situations constitute an emergency (running out of yogurt is not one of them!). Assign kids their own tasks and use breaks to check in on them.
Think Outside the (Toy) Box
Get creative with activities to keep your kids occupied. The weather is (finally!) getting better so if you have the space, set up a mud kitchen outdoors by gathering old pots and pans and make an outside cooker. Use any old cardboard boxes that may be lying around to create a shop. This is great for younger kids to learn about counting and money. Or put those extra screens to good use: create a list of things to find in the garden or kitchen and get the kids to take photos of the items on their tablets.
Speaking of screens, while many parents may feel guilty about the amount of screen time their kids are getting, now’s the chance to tap into the educational options that are available.
- Duolingo is a free foreign language learning app that includes a leader board where kids can compete against each other.
- RTE has a home school hub with an hour of three short class segments aimed at 1st-6th classes.
- Cosmic Yoga and PE with Joe can help to burn off some of those seemingly unlimited energy reserves that kids possess!
Imitate, don’t replicate!
It’s natural to be concerned that your kids may be missing out at school. Try not to succumb to the temptation to replicate a school environment at home while you work. Most parents are not qualified educators so it’s wholly unrealistic to become replacement teachers. I recently spoke to a teacher friend of mine on the subject and she gave me the following reassuring advice:
Don’t worry about following a curriculum, a small bit in the morning is fine. Routine can help but keep it nice and loose – if a child is really enjoying painting/jigsaws/Lego, leave them at it. Small children especially learn through play. What children need most right now is calmness and stability.
Less is More
Learn to embrace the flexibility that telecommuting provides. If the kids are being particularly unruly (or extra kid-like!) and if time allows, log off for some parenting time, safe in the knowledge that you can pick up when the kids have gone to bed.
Don’t strive for perfection. Don’t think you can do it all. Just like regular life in the office, some days will be better than others. So, take it one day at a time and when it all seems like it’s getting too much, stop, take a breath, and remember this too shall pass.
Have you any other tips for blending the worlds of telecommuting and parenting? We’d love to hear them in the comments below, and if you’d like more detail, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to share what we’ve learned from almost a decade of effective telecommuting.