I should preface this post by saying that Karen took the majority of the hits during our first day of working from home as an entire family unit. Typically Friday is my ‘most meetings’ day and since Ireland is in semi-lockdown because of COVID-19 (which rhymes with ‘Come on, Eileen’ for those wondering about the title of the post) we both had to work from home with the two terrors in tow. Not all heroes wear capes – some wear children around their neck while still getting some work done.
The day was March 12th, 2020 and everyone was watching the news for the same reason: was there going to be some sort of extreme measures announced to help combat COVID-19 in Ireland. A little before lunch our Caretaker Government finally did something to justify all their inflated salaries, they closed the schools and creches to try and stop the virus spreading. Of course this act brought with it a lot of chaos in the lives of parents. For those lucky few, it meant working from home with the kids in the house.
Something akin to trying to balance on the tip of a needle while reciting old poetry in Latin and writing out pi to a thousand places on a grain of sand. Whilst whistling Bohemian Rhapsody.
Actually that is easier than working from home with the kids.
Kids, particularly the young ones that haven’t gone to school, need entertaining. A lot of entertaining. Plonking them down in front of Netflix or Disney or ‘Popular Streaming Service’ is going to only get you so far. They will get grumpy and grouchy and want to be fed fifteen times a minute despite the fact they normally don’t. Kids don’t adjust well to change in routine, because why would they? Being able to roll with the punches would make parenting so much easier, the little shits don’t want that.
They are organised.
But hilariously I found that working from home with the kids has similarities to working in the office without them. Scarily so.
For example, standups.
Any of my reports complain about stand-ups in a paradoxical sort of way. They see the need for them, but also say they take too much time. They are a necessary evil, but one they’d rather shoot instead of attend. Basically they don’t take stand-ups seriously. Turns out our kids view stand-ups the same way. Showing up in the middle of the video call with masks and then just muttering nonsense before running away.
It was like they had worked with me their entire lives.
Lunch is another one. I manage a fairly big team, meaning there are a lot of personalities on said team. Not everyone is going to be in the mood for the same lunch suggestions on any given day, which is fine. If we were all the same the world would be boring. But the dreaded question of ‘So, plans for lunch?’ always ends up with a few suggestions, no agreements, and a splintering of the group as people go forth to forage on their own.
WFH with the kids, same result. Karen asked about lunch and they both screamed out two completely different suggestions. Neither of which could be made easily or at the same time, because why would kids suggest the same thing? Ending up with Karen (because I had to run for another poxy video call) making what she wanted and the kids getting that for lunch.
Which was invariable what they actually would have eaten anyway.
Then there is the whole etiquette around being on a conference call. Most people who work in an office will have experienced at least one con-call in their time. It is always audio chaos at first as people shout to be heard or talk over each other. Eventually somebody, generally the call organizer, will start to run the call. They will suggest people shut up (politely, of course) and then start to funnel questions and comments in an organised manner.
WFH with kids while on a con-call is pretty much the same. Except while the person running the call handles the adults, the adults have to handle the kids.
‘WILL YOU SHUT UP FOR A SECOND SO DADDY CAN ASK HIS QUESTION!’ –
‘Derek, sorry, could you go on mute there before you contribute anything further to the call.’
And, of course, there is the impatience. People in an office situation, particularly on a Friday, will watch the clock like a robotic hawk. Laser focused attention on the hands as they mentally try to make time move faster and bring forth the weekend.
WFH with kids, regardless of the day of the week, has the same stuff going on. Except an adult in the office at least starts this around 3pm. The grumbling typically only starts after they do approximately five hours of work and check the time again, distraught to see that it is only 4pm. Kids will start wondering why you are not doing stuff with them that is ‘fun’ from 7am, getting more vocal about this complaint with each passing minute. By the end of the working day shift you would wonder if there is room for original complaining left in your brain.
Desk drop-ins are another commonality between working in the office and WFH with kids. Desk drop-ins are the bane of any worker’s day, because they cause you to get distracted from the task at hand. They are an evil that needs to be killed from the office, but apparently murdering a colleague is illegal in most parts of the world.
Thanks modern society.
WFH with kids, same problem. You can give them crayons, colouring books, food and water. You may eventually buckle and just fire them in front of the telly, in the hope that those thirty minutes can be used to do some work. Then, like cute ninjas, they appear beside your desk. Looking for something.
Always. Looking. For. Something.
I suppose the reality is that WFH with kids is no different to working in the office without them.
But bugger me this was only day one. We’ve two more weeks of this crap to get through.
As one of the folk on my team said ‘This period will see a load of babies made, with a load of divorces happening.’
He probably ain’t wrong on either part.
But, in a rarity for me, let’s finish with some helpful tips on how to WFH with Kids for a long period
- Try, as best you can, do both muck in. It may not be possible if you have a lot of meetings or calls but if you have even thirty minutes between them try and give your other half those thirty minutes.
- Grabbing a coffee or tea? Grab two – you can be full sure you other half is burning the candle at three spots.
- Craft kits are a godsend – stock up on those bad boys. Same with colouring books, crayons, all that arty junk. Kids love to do two things from a young age. Make a mess and destroy your house – craft kits allow both to be done and kept their attention for a few minutes.
- Break the screen rule – screw it. Yes screen time is bad, we should limit it, blah blah blah. You know what else is bad – losing your job because you had to entertain the kids for eight hours. In times of madness the rules can slide a little. An hour in front of telly isn’t going to kill them, but it will give you sixty minutes to get four hundred minutes of work attempted.
- Get out there – while socialising is meant to be kept to a minimum you can go for a walk or run or jog. Eat lunch at the desk, get the family all out for some air on your lunch hour. For adults it is good for their mental well-being. For kids it might tire them out just enough that they sit still for a few hours when they get back.
- Vent on social media – it will help. Trust me there is a country load of people going through the exact same thing, bottling it up isn’t going to do anyone any good. In fact bottling it up to seem like you are a pillar of strength will only lead to an argument with your partner and nobody wants that. A tweet, a post, a picture – tagged with the wfh-covid-19 tag will have you growing a support network in minutes.
But trust me on the sunscreen