For many people, working from home is rather difficult.
They might not have space for decent home offices, needing to work from their kitchen tables or try to tap away at their laptops while lounging on their couches (it’s a nice mental image, but it’s deeply uncomfortable in reality). Maybe they miss the strong lighting of conventional offices, relying on warm mood lighting and having to battle on a regular basis to fend off sleepiness and sluggishness.
Now add home-schooling to the mix and see the complexity intensify. The latest announcement from the British government has seen all schools across the country close until at least February half-term (and that’s if the lockdown actually works), and that means that many parents are once again being tasked — either tacitly or explicitly — with serving as temporary teachers. And they aren’t fortunate enough to have dedicated classrooms they can bring to bear; their homes are their only facilities.
Let’s suppose (as is implied by your decision to read this piece) that you’re in that frustrating situation. You need to get your job done so you can put food on the table, but you must also do everything you can to stop your child’s education from stalling. How are you supposed to balance these two vital responsibilities?
Here are some of our tips to make it somewhat easier.
Explain the situation to your colleagues
Many people attempt to conceal their home-schooling efforts from their coworkers because they see any disruption as unprofessional. If they’re having virtual meetings, for instance, and their kids make noise in the background, they can be mortified and apologise profusely.
This is a huge mistake — not allowing the disruption, of course, but apologising for it. There is no reason whatsoever to be embarrassed about small kids making noise or getting in the way.
By now, companies of all shapes and sizes are quite familiar with the varied challenges of working from home, and they’re entirely aware that many people need to home-school their kids. Being a parent is hard at the best of times, and this just adds to the stress. Accordingly, they’re not going to care when kids leap in front of webcams — and they’re not going to mind letting workers finish slightly early so they can teach their kids.
So don’t waste time stressing about keeping your kids from disrupting your work, because of course they’ll disrupt your work (and stress is the enemy). Instead, let your colleagues know what the situation is, and allow them to support you as best they can. They’ll surely want what’s best for you and your kids.
Work somewhere allowing supervision
It might be tempting to stick to a home office as far away from your kids as you can get, but that simply isn’t a good idea. Small kids are vulnerable and make stupid decisions on a regular basis, so you need to be in a position to supervise them as you work.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have that dedicated home office in a separate room with a lockable door — but it does mean that you need to be able to get things done from elsewhere.
If you want to keep your kids in the kitchen as they study (or play games), position yourself so you can observe them as you work. You don’t want to be turning your head all the time to check what’s going on, after all. Sitting in a corner facing the room is generally a good option. And when you know the kids are watching TV (or even sleeping), you can go elsewhere to work.
Don’t try to do both things at once
Though we just looked at why you should supervise your kids as you work, that isn’t to say that you should try to educate them as you work. That’s a terrible idea. When you’re working, focus on working. When you’re home-schooling, concentrate on home-schooling. The more you allow those tasks to bleed together, the harder your life will be, and the worse the results will get.
If you can set up a schedule with clear delineation between them (maybe working 9-12 and teaching 12-3), that will certainly help you, but that may not be viable.
If that’s the case, then you’ll simply need to make good decisions throughout the day. If you’re working and you suddenly think of something you want to teach, make a clear note of it for later. If you’re teaching and you get an idea for your job, do the same. Keep them separate.
Make some time for doing neither
It’s vital to remember that you’re not just balancing working with schooling. There’s another key component: looking after yourself. If you can’t protect your mental and physical wellbeing, you won’t be able to work or teach effectively.
So however packed your schedule gets, you simply must find some time for yourself: taking a bath, exercising, playing games, watching TV, etc.
You can still be contactable if necessary. You can tell your kids to call you if they need your attention, and even tell your boss that you can get back to work in the event of an emergency. But you mustn’t spend time thinking about those other tasks. Just enjoy yourself and refresh your energy levels. You’ll be a happier person, a better teacher, and a more productive worker.
Working from home is tough enough when you’re the only person around, and having the education of your kids as a further task makes it so much harder.
It’s never going to be trivial to handle this arrangement, of course, but you can use these tips to alleviate the challenge somewhat. Do what you can. No one can ask for more.