Set clear boundaries
My husband’s job has included periods of being on-call over weekends and late in to the evening, with access to his computer needed at all times. It was intrusive and our children did not respond well to it initially. Here’s what we did to make the situation work for our family life.
When it looked like it would be a busy night on-call at home, my husband would ensure he left the office on time. He would then be home for family dinner and a little quality-time; at six o’clock in the evening on-call hours would begin and he would head to his work desk, whether he had had a call or not.
Our family found this considerably less disruptive than being available in theory, but responding to a beeping phone every ten minutes. Our children in particular found it much easier to understand this clearer work/life boundary.
Respect the lunch hour
When you work at home all day, one of the challenges you face is when to mentally turn work-mode off. Initially, lunch breaks became a game of clock watching and counting down the minutes for the children who couldn’t tell the time yet.
Our solution was to purchase a rather large, colourful timer. We set it for the length of the lunch break and it counts down with a visual traffic light display and beeps a five minute warning. With that beep, everyone knows it is time to wind down lunch time and make a cup of tea for the afternoon work session. No more clock watching and much more of a relaxing lunch break.
We are flexible with lunch itself. If there is an ongoing meeting, my husband might eat at his desk and take a full break separately when it suits his work pattern for the day. The main components for a successful break in our house are:
- Take lunch at a natural work break if there is one
- Move to a different environment
- Set a timer - your phone will do
Make quality time count
There are a lot of screens in our house and they are constantly available. We are using them more than ever before to work full-time at home and maintain contact with family and friends during this time of physical distancing and pandemic lockdown.
If I have a heavy phone day, I do notice a change in my children’s attitudes and it’s not a positive one! When they were younger, I would visibly put my phone away and leave it alone. Now that they are older and play or work more independently, I have a new way to ensure we’re all getting the most out of our time together and that I am not checking my phone more regularly than I need to be; my phone is connected to the living space speakers and I use it to stream music.
This is particularly effective first thing in the morning whilst we are having breakfast and getting ready for our day. If you have access to your work emails on your phone, you don’t want to get sucked in to that before you are ready to start your work day. This creates a physical boundary that makes me much more aware of my behaviour, as in order to check my phone I do have to interrupt the phone streaming music everyone is listening to and enjoying.
You can make it work
When my husband first began working from home, we did not find it easy to balance life with the children and commit fully to work, in one space. We persevered because we really wanted to enjoy the benefits of flexible working when we were fortunate to have the option available, but it has been an active process to make this work for our family.
Creating clear life boundaries and respecting quality time has made this manageable as a long term plan for us. We now have three children and educate our children at home. All of these coping mechanisms have helped keep our home and working environment in balance.