The Pandemic Paradigm: Five keys to managing the new, blended, work/life balance challenge
In part two of this Pandemic Paradigm series, we examine the shift in working environments around the world and managing your work/life balance.
Read part one here.
The kids are home.
For normal school breaks and long weekends, this is a celebrated time to plan family vacations, reunion activities and just hang out together. But those are planned, in advance, and are neatly slotted into the pattern of our daily lives. Work is put on hold, routines shift, and we are well aware that it’s only for the next 48 or 72 hours. For those of us in colder climates, even the unscheduled “snow days” come with some anticipation and planning.
And we know what to expect when that time ends. Everyone goes back to their normal daily routines.
Today, we don’t have daily routines.
For many working parents, that has new meaning this week.
Sift through your social media channels and you see everything from borderline hysteria to just plain hysterical. Many parents of school-age children are facing a war on two-fronts: how to keep the kids occupied and happy during an abnormal time, and how to manage daily work with minimal impact.
At YayPay, we are fortunate to have a business that can transition to the new work-from-home paradigm with relative ease. And since many of our team members already work remotely, we have some insight on how to manage when suddenly your work life and home life are colliding in the same physical space.
Here are five recommendations we have for helping you through the new pandemic paradigm:
1. Patience, Padawan. You might be feeling like you’ve been transplanted to some alternate galaxy far, far away. And with that perfectly understandable feeling, you need patience. With your kids. With your spouse. With your coworkers. With your neighbors. With that woman at Target who just crammed 104 rolls of toilet paper in her cart. And most of all, with yourself. Even for those of us accustomed to working from home, it’s a weird time out there. And in here.
Kids aren’t used to being home at this time of day. Your significant other isn’t used to the changes either. Many of your coworkers and business contacts have shifting schedules and new work environments that include lousy conference call connections, barking dogs and, inevitably, someone managing a bathroom remodel in the background.
Take a breath and remember that if this is the worst of the crisis for you and your family, you are blessed indeed. For the next few weeks, we are all going to be late, distracted and a little bit frustrated. A little bit of patience, and kindness, will build a whole lot of goodwill, and ease the pressure for everyone. Including you.
2. Schedule your day. If you are new to the work from home environment, this is important. Of course your calls and meetings will be scheduled, but schedule some of the things you normally don’t schedule when you’re going to an office. Schedule an extra ten minutes between calls to go to the bathroom or grab a snack. Or to walk around the block with your dog. These breaks equal “watercooler” breaks or stopping by a coworker’s desk for the odd comment. Schedule lunch. And eat it in the other room. If you normally work at the office until 5:45pm then drive home, schedule your end of day commute back to your kitchen or living room. Funny advice, you think? Here’s the thing...
The challenging thing about being a remote worker is that while management is often worried that employees will take advantage of the lack of direct supervision by eating bon bons and watching soap operas during “work hours”, the far more common scenario is the remote worker who starts at 6:30am in their pajamas, because they can, and is still in said pajamas at 4pm because they never left their desk. If you are not used to working from home, then trust me: this will happen to you. And it doesn’t actually benefit you, or the company. It burns you out.
So create a schedule and pay attention to it. You need all the energy you can preserve to manage your new home life, which is now right outside the door of your new work life.
3. Schedule your family’s time. Some of this might be handled for you - some schools are moving to online classes and so will have a new schedule for your kids. But not all. And with the canceling of club meetings and group activities, your kids will be left with extra time on their hands. Take all this into consideration, and just as you create a reasonable work schedule for yourself, create one for everyone in the family. Work in time for academics, if this isn’t already set up by your school system. You may not be set up for home-schooling, especially if you have a job to manage, but things like reading, or math workbooks, or online worksheets are all accessible. Research is still at the fingertips of a keyboard (and telecom companies are offering free internet access, too). So are Ted Talks and other academic resources.
You can still schedule screen times. You can schedule bedtime, lunchtime and all the other “usual” stuff. You can schedule recess - let everyone out of the house and walk the dog, sit in the yard, go to the neighborhood park (yes, yes, with your Purell and plenty of wipes). Social distancing is about limiting, not completely ending, social interaction. And frankly, we could all use a little fresh air.
But don’t focus just on what’s “missing” from your normal routine. So your son won’t have algebra for a few weeks. Ok. What if he brushes up on his home ec skills and is assigned to making lunch for everyone who’s home-bound three days a week? What if your daughter takes her biology textbook into the garden to see what life really looks like? Take advantage of the change in schedules to schedule other life lessons, like money management, house cleaning, pet care.
Depending on your position on risk management, maybe you spend time with neighbors who need added assistance. Yes, we’re supposed to practice social distancing, but we’re also supposed to be humans. Perhaps a neighbor who is ill or elderly needs grocery help, or yard clean up. Or just company for half an hour. You judge the risk factors and make the call.
The key is, schedule it. Every kid thinks they want nothing to do… until they have nothing to do. Boredom breeds… well, not good things. And while the school closings, daycare closings and social restrictions are certainly wreaking havoc, it will be even more stressful to have the noise, whining and fighting around you that inevitably happens when young humans are at loose ends.
4. As Captain Picard says, “Engage.” The art of conversation has been compromised by technology and social media. Or so thousands of pre-pandemic memes claim. Ok, then - challenge accepted! Conversation can be practiced with each other, with family members over the phone or Skype. All the news outlets are giving advice about talking to young children about the crisis: be honest but not scary, tell the truth but maybe not too much, etc. You know your kids. You know what you’re comfortable sharing. And probably, they can handle about 50% more than what you think.
But you’re all going to get bored of talking about the pandemic really fast. So play truth or dare. Or follow the get-to-know-you questions and see how much you really don’t know about your kids. Bring out the dreaded board games. But take advantage of the time to actually interact with each other. Help each other cook meals. Make household chores a group activity.
See what’s happening in your neighborhood. You will have neighbors still willing to host playdates and trade babysitting hours. Your social circle may be limited, but depending on your comfort level, it doesn’t have to end completely. If you’re one who still wants to enjoy face to face connection during this time, seek out those friends and neighbors, and engage. This one is up to your and your comfort level with the risk.
If your kids are younger, then trust me when I say you have no idea how fast time is moving. Every age, every stage is unique. And today’s pandemic creates an unprecedented opportunity to engage even more so than your previous “normal” life allowed. It’s a gift.
It’s a gift that may make you want to pull your hair out, release primal screams or run to a far away uninhabited island at times, but it’s also a gift that will have you laughing harder, acting sillier and accessing a deeper love than you ever thought possible with the people who make you laugh and cry the most.
5. Surrender with your hands up. It feels a bit like a hostage situation, right? We’re trapped inside, we’re not supposed to leave, and someone always has to go to the bathroom. In situations where we have no or limited control, there really isn’t anything to do but surrender to it. This is what our life is today. Rather than stressing and worrying about what we’re losing, what’s changing or what may come next, shift your energy to a state of surrender. Not the victim-y oh-poor-me-my-life-is-out-of-control surrender, but the let’s-see-what-we-can-do-with-this-new-situation surrender. The kind that doesn’t fight against the tide, but observes the tidal patterns and says, here’s how I can make the most out of the next wave.
The practicalities of life don’t change - we have to eat, work, pay bills, take care of our bodies. But the way in which we do those things is changing. That’s only a struggle if you fight it, rather than roll with it. When we fight it, we harbor frustration, irritation and anxiety about all the things we now can’t do. When we accept it, we can shift our energy to focus on creating new patterns, new actions and maybe even a whole new lifestyle that serves us.
If you’re a parent, the bottom line is this: the kids are home. You are home. Your significant other is home. The house suddenly feels rather full, and maybe a bit restless.
And that’s ok.
Over the next several weeks, as a society, we will find new and creative ways to manage through this. We all know the saying, it takes a village. This is an opportunity to actively be part of your village. Tap into your community resources. Talk to your friends. And while you can, enjoy the unusual closeness this pandemic is enforcing with your family. The community we create in this time of emergency will have a meaningful and lasting effect on our children. Of all ages.
While on the one hand, we hope to never see something like this again, on the other hand, we may never get this opportunity again, when the kids are home.