Just because many areas in Utah have now moved from the orange, moderate-risk phase to a yellow, low-risk phase last Saturday, that does not necessarily mean the end of work-from-home for all. For those who are told they may return to the office, it is likely to be under new rules, such as returning in shifts so that if someone in one group becomes infected with COVID-19, that group could stay home and reduce the risk of infecting another group. Expect to see workspaces set farther apart and signage directing the flow of traffic, and the option to work a day or more each week from home.
Companies are poised to reverse a return to work if a second wave of outbreaks occur. Further, management has seen that remote work works and represents a big cost savings against overhead. So for a variety of reasons, work-from-home is here to stay. Leading the trend is social media giant Twitter, which recently announced it would allow its employees to work from home “forever.”
I have to think that hearing the word “forever” may make many parents shudder. Already, kids have been home for more than two months, and there is no firm date to reopen schools in the fall. Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing the general manager of a large shipping company in Hamburg, Germany, who, like the rest of us, has been working at home over the last two months. His 5-year-old daughter made a brief appearance to say she really likes daddy working from home, but still, mommy is the boss! He had some good tips for parents that I’d like to share.
“Maintain your office schedule,” he said. “I still get up at the same time, have breakfast and get properly dressed. Stick to breaks for lunch and so on, and most importantly, stop work at the normal time because if you’re not careful, it can drag into the evening.”
But what about managing the expectations of his young daughter? “My daughter had to learn that while I’m home, I’m still working. When I’m video conferencing, she’s coming into the room and wants a hug, wants to talk or write something on the computer. It’s difficult for children to understand that you are there, but you’re actually not there.” The key, he said, is maintaining a strict schedule and at 5 o’clock, turn off the computer and the cellphone. This strategy works because his wife is home and can take care of their daughter during working hours, but what if that’s not the case for you?
The following tips will depend on the age and temperament of your children, but new routines can be learned. Start by organizing your own schedule by setting time aside for phone calls and video conferencing. You may not have a lot of flexibility if your job requires team calls at a certain time, but you can form your plan around those mandatory sessions. Ideally, you have a space at home with a door to close. Tie a ribbon on the door handle or make a sign to let kids know when you cannot be interrupted. Schedule playtime before the do-not-disturb time, which will likely lead to less interruptions. Set up an activity that will engage the kids and remind them that for the next 30 or so minutes, they must be quiet. At the end of the quiet period, give them something to look forward to like a snack or a walk.
Google has recently launched “Read Along,” a free app for children to practice their reading skills. The app includes a reading buddy that listens to your child read aloud and offers help when he or she gets stuck on a word. Once downloaded, the app does not require an internet connection, which makes unattended use safer. It also does not require any login information from your child, another plus for security and privacy. It’s available in English and Spanish (good for kids learning a second language), along with several others. However, it is only available to use on an Android phone at this time, but hopefully Google will expand to other platforms soon.
If you’re going to use educational apps, be sure to note whether a free app then requires a monthly fee for content (many do) and carefully read the parental control options, which is particularly important for parents with young children.
This is also a great time to introduce subjects beyond the basics. Take a look at Google’s Experiments for Learning, which is a collection that educators and parents have found useful. Kids can use movement to make music, explore Mars, learn Morse code and more, and all are free. Visit https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/experimentsforlearning.
Be patient with yourself and your kids. And set a good example — if you’ve promised to take a break from work at a certain time, do it. Your new work-from-home routine will be more successful.