An expert helps you set up ground rules when you suddenly need to convert your home into a workplace.

Mum of three Diana Wang, an accountant, was initially thrilled when her company announced that they would be implementing a BCP a Business Continuity Plan in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It had always been my dream, to have a flexi-type of job, where I could look after the kids, and balance my work at the same time,” she says.

Feeling optimistic and excited, Wang made plans to cook healthy meals from home, and pick up her younger two children from preschool. “I told my in-laws that I didn’t need their childcare help as I would be home,” she chuckles.

Little did she know that it would be one of the most difficult weeks of her life.

“Between conference calls, answering e-mails and having online discussions with my colleagues, it was extremely hard to manage the three kids who were also excited to see me at home and wanted all my attention!” Wang says.

In the end, she locked herself in her bedroom for hours to concentrate on her work, while her helper watched the kids. “Which made me feel very guilty because I could hear them whining for me outside.”

Children are indeed gifted in barging in on their parents when they try to work from home. We all remember the hilarious incident of 2017 that was caught on BBC News when a toddler sashayed her way into her political commentator dad’s interview on North Korean policy.

When we work from home, we end up becoming more conscious of when we are ‘working’ and when we are not. If well-planned, most work-from-home employees can actually do more within the same time period.

Still, working from home can have its benefits. For one, there may be more opportunities to bond with junior.

Says Sher-li Torrey, founder of career portal Mums@Work, “Being at home during office hours usually gives parents a greater ‘inside’ look at their children’s day-to-day habits.

“Too often, when we return home at 6 to 8pm, the children have already spent most of their day busy, so there’s usually less in-depth communication by this time.”

She adds that being physically present more means that parents will be able to “catch” their little ones at a time when they “want to speak, communicate and bond with you”, which will definitely enhance your relationship.

In addition, time-deficient parents will realise that working from home will save them time from commuting, after-work gatherings and even meetings that overrun.

Torrey points out, “When we work from home, we end up becoming more conscious of when we are ‘working’ and when we are not. If well-planned, most work-from-home employees can actually do more within the same time period.”

The challenges when you work at home

That said, some difficulties do come with the advantages. Some children especially the older ones may not like having their parents home 24/7 and may actually act out.

“If they felt they had much ‘freedom’ before, they may see this as being a reduction of their freedom, since mummy is always here now,” Torrey explains.

Your kids and spouse may also assume wrongly! that you are free to be more involved in home and family duties just because you are physically present.

But if your work load hasn’t changed, this could lead to unwanted stress and anxiety.

It could also get increasingly difficult to compartmentalise your work and home life.

For instance, parents find themselves working even more than before, because “I don’t know when to stop checking my e-mails, since I’m ‘at work’ all the time now”, Torrey notes.

Others may find themselves being distracted more often for instance, by your toddler asking for snacks, or your older child asking for help with his homework. “It can be a big challenge to try to fulfil all your roles at the same time,” she reckons.

 

You'll miss interacting with colleagues

From the conversations across cubicles, to the quick coffee run in the afternoon, you will miss things about your co-workers.

Torrey states, “There is something very psychologically positive in having work colleagues around you. That feeling of ‘we are in this together’ is sometimes lost when the physical contact is missing.”

Certain things will also be inherently more difficult to do when you’re not sharing the same physical space.

You’ll need to set expectations for both your colleagues and your offspring… Similarly, your kids (and spouse!) should know what they can or cannot do when you are working.

Torrey explains, “You can no longer walk up to Finance team’s Florence to ask her about a project and have the luxury of her replying to you immediately. Now, you’ll have to communicate virtually and wait for that response.”

Tips for telecommuting

However, you have ways to overcome the challenges of telecommuting while embracing its benefits. Torrey, whose career portal helps mums look for flexi-time work or become mumpreneurs, shares her tips:

#1. Set expectations and limits You’ll need to set expectations for both your colleagues and your offspring. Help your colleagues understand the limitations you have when you’re at home with the kids. Similarly, your kids (and spouse!) should know what they can or cannot do when you are working.

#2. Draw out your physical work station Tell your kids when they should not enter, or that they can only enter if you give them permission to.

#3. Set your own work schedule A timetable is useful, especially if you are required to balance family duties. Tell you kids to follow that schedule for instance, they can ask you for homework help from 2pm to 3pm.

#4. Create to-do lists for both work and home every night This will help you plan for the next day and complete what you need to do.

#5. Use online tools Working from home doesn’t mean that you need to struggle to communicate with your colleagues. A video communications tool like Zoom conduct online meetings with your colleagues, while WhatsApp chat groups and Google Drive lets you communicate and share work files respectively.

#6. Explore childcare options If your work requires 100 per cent of your focus, or if you simply find it difficult to work when the kids are yelling, you'll simply have to make the best of a bad situation, especially since the CB restrictions were tightened on 21 April. So, why not alternate childcare “shifts” with your other half? The aim is to make working remotely and caring for junior more manageable and, maybe, even a success! When the CB rules are relaxed, you can consider getting additional help. It could be a next-door neighbour who could watch the kids for an hour while you complete that conference call, or perhaps a sister, who could come over to keep them occupied for the afternoon.

Photos: iStock

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