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“Social distancing” has become the new norm in our daily life over the past couple of weeks. As we all struggle to develop new routines and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle, the reality of our new “normal” starts setting in. It is right about this time that most of us begin to realise that what we thought was temporary, may not infact be so. While some changes in our lives like the social isolation of course, be only for a short period of time, our lives will no longer be the same.

(Update: since last night we are in complete lockdown in Mumbai, India for 21 days)

This is true for any kind of disruption and it will certainly be true for the kind of disruption that COVID-19 will leave in its path. One of the key changes for many of us will be our ability to work from home. This is certainly practical and useful. But let’s face it, for many women like us with kids at home at this time all day, it can be a real challenge to be productive and work efficiently. This is certainly the case for me.

This is the reason I decided to write about this topic. At the same time, I am not losing sight of the fact that I am indeed privileged and feel grateful that I have access to resources like laptops and broadband connection so that I CAN work from home.

BREATHE…this too shall pass

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

Working from home becomes all the more challenging when you take into account all the other responsibilities that a woman has at home APART from keeping up with her work. Every family has a certain support system in the form of nannies, staff and cook to help out at home including family members like grandparents who often supervise them. But in a situation like a complete lockdown it becomes imperative that we realise that this time it is “all hands on deck”. I find that ultimately for mothers it is definitely more challenging to work from home due to the many other responsibilities that are on their plate right now at all times during the day.

A few things that you can keep in mind as you work from home

  • Structure the day for yourself and most importantly for your children especially at this time (a resource shared below for ideas)
  • Writing down the responsibilities and allocating it between family members (including children)
  • Making and sharing a schedule regarding your work with your spouse so that you can work at alternate times
  • Designate a time to catch up with tea/coffee with your husband/partner during the day
  • Use a website like https://coffitivity.com/ as a way of creating background ambient sounds for when you need to block out distracting noises
  • Sticking to some rituals that signal the end of the work day so that you can switch off from work mode

Creating space

This is the most critical part of creating a workspace at home which will help keep productivity high.

  • Set up a designated “workplace” (if space permits).
  • If this is not possible for you, at the very least ensure that clear out any clutter before you start working from any space in your house and set it up like a temporary workplace. This space can be a corner of the dining table, a small table in your bedroom or any other room. It may also mean that you use it in turns along with your other family members.
  • If this space is temporary, keep it simple so that you can set it up in a few minutes right before you start working. 
  • If you do not have a desk at home you can also use the available space in your house. The important thing is that when you are in that space, then you are working and not doing anything else. 
  • Resist the temptation of working from the comfortable couch or sofa as it can hamper your productivity.

Focus and productivity

As moms working from home, this can AND is often the biggest challenge. It is much easier in many ways to focus and work from an office simply because you can switch off from thinking about things like house work and family responsibilities at lease for a while working. 

However, when working from home I find that my ability to focus and be productive goes down a lot. This is especially true for the majority of us who may not have a dedicated workspace and/or room to work from and at the same time ALL family members are at home now due to the social quarantine.

Set clear family boundaries

  • Plan and make out a routine for each individual family member. That means allocating time for studying, relaxation and entertainment for your children. Also, ensure that everyone is aware of your “working hours” and make sure that you stick to them
  • Stick to the routine that you set for yourself so that wind down after your work day and “switch off” from work once you are done
  • Use the Pomodoro technique (or something similar) to schedule blocks of time within which you finish a designated amount of work. Make sure that you take a break at the end of each block to unwind and catch up with a family member or a friend (online).
  • Getting dressed is another way of making sure that you stay in a productive mindset. Getting out of your night wear and ensuring that you follow your work day routine of preparing for work helps to be more productive

Communication and connection

Companies like Slack and Microsoft have communication tools (free for limited features) that allow you to communicate with others including your team members. Zoom is an excellent tool for video communication for online meetings and catch up sessions. Over communication also becomes a necessity when working from especially if you are dealing with a team.

As far as my practice is concerned, I have recently hired a Virtual Assistant. Fortunately, due to the inherent nature of this role, our mode of communication is necessarily and completely online and I have not had to make any changes. However, for most of you, this is not likely the case and you may need to consider making some changes in your communication channel. 

Relaxation and scheduled breaks

As a Health Coach, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having regular, scheduled breaks much as you would in a physical office space. Taking a break from work is really important especially when working from home as the hours can pass by pretty fast. Getting up every hour on the hour to take a walk around the house, take a water/bathroom break or simply to have a quick chat with another family member. Do some stretches if you need to.

Challenges

However, you may be getting interrupted regularly as you try to schedule and stick to the blocks of time that you have allocated towards your work. I find that this is by far my biggest challenge. While it has been easy to set up a designated work station for my work, it has been pretty hard to concentrate when I am interrupted multiple times. Also, since like most of you, I have a shared workspace with my family (my son and I are sharing the same desk since the family desktop is kept there) we take turns to work there.  This means that I had to make a few changes in how I was scheduling my day. 

Morning routine makes a comeback

A good morning routine can give a perfect start to your day and set you up for success. I have a morning routine that I have been following for a while and I have written a post on this. (You can read it HERE). However, due to the erratic and unpredictable nature of the past week or so, my own routine has gone off track since both my children are at home and I have had to adjust to their online school schedule.

You can set your own morning routine based on your needs; the need for a mom with a young child will be different from that of a mom with an older child. I am now planning to make some changes to how and when I start my work day and resume the morning routine that had fallen by the way side.

Most importantly,

Do not lose sight of the fact that you are getting to spend some time with your family and it is up to you to make the most of it

Know that you also do NOT need to do this perfectly! Do what you need to so that you can get through this phase in your life

Give yourself and your family some grace as you try and do the best that you can

Resources that can help keep your children constructively engaged

https://khanacademy.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360040167432-How-can-Khan-Academy-be-used-for-remote-learning-during-school-closures-

https://drive.google.com/drive/mobile/folders/1BC_QWKWo1x4wPK2fyKn5jRsnAYZWcyj8?usp=drive_open