Lockdown III: striking a balance between working and schooling

Headshot of Sarah Cope

Sarah Cope, Business Development Manager

18 January 2021

When news of the third lockdown was announced I was in my usual spot on the sofa with my husband. Once again, we had turned on the television to watch the Prime Minister do as everyone had been hoping for him to do, as the number of COVID cases rose, and lockdown the country.

That Monday my two children (six and eight) had gone back to school after the Christmas break and were already in bed, we had draped their uniforms on the radiators and told them we were not sure if they would be going to school in the morning – my eight-year-old suffers with anxiety so this really was not ideal. We promised them as soon as we heard that we’d tell them if they were still awake. True to our word, I ran upstairs the moments the words crossed Boris’s lips while my husband listened on. It was only after we sat back down that the reality of the situation sunk in. Lockdown and home schooling again.

With the announcement came the panic. How on earth are we going to fit in 7.5 hours work a day alongside teaching two children in different Year Groups? That first week we tried to do it all, but by the end we were dead on our feet and stressed out of our minds – it was unsustainable and resulted in nothing but tears and exhaustion. My epiphany came in our team meeting and on a phone call with my manager during week two, I resolved to prioritise business critical and the day-to-day stuff ahead of any of the big projects which can wait. It seems obvious now, but I was set on trying to do it all, alas there just isn’t enough time in the day, and mentally I can only do so much.

A wooden sign post with three arrows, they say, Coronavirus, Lockdown and Rules.

I am incredibly lucky to work for organisation which really trusts its employees, I am certain this has made home-school easier than it could have been. Our day consists of my husband and I starting work around 6am, giving us 3 straight hours to get on top of things before the home schooling begins. We then tag-team so we are able to both work and take virtual meetings while doing our share of the teaching. This lockdown is much harder now the children have a full schedule of lessons, they also have a zoom meeting with their teacher and class at the beginning and end of each school day. We try and get out around lunchtime or in the afternoon to walk both the children and dogs, and to get a bit of fresh air and exercise. Once the children have finished, we settle down to another couple of hours of work. We seemed to have settled to this routine come the end of week two.

“I am incredibly lucky to work for organisation which really trusts its employees, I am certain this has made home-school easier than it could have been.”

Before the pandemic there was a long-standing stigma around working from home, one which I have felt myself in my previous job. It was almost as if those in the office assumed you were slacking off. For me personally, I always felt I was far more productive at home, away from distraction and being dragged into last minute meetings. My frustration was that no one seemed to acknowledge this, even though ‘flexible working’ had become a ‘buzz word’. It’s hard to deny that one of the positives to come out of COVID19 is the realisation by employers of how productive working from home is/can be, never mind the huge positive improvement to work/life balance! With the shift to home-working for many organisations during this pandemic, there has also been a shift in mentality for measuring productivity. Typically, you would ensure you get your hours in each day the usual 9 to 5 (or 8 to 4 in my case) even if you spent the last 15 minutes twiddling your thumbs because it wasn’t worth starting anything new. Now more and more, and especially for those home-schooling, we are seeing a far more flexible approach focused purely on productivity.

Of course, working from home is not right for everyone or every business, we are seeing some of the negative results of home-working on the High Street, and in particular to businesses which rely on office workers buying coffee and lunch. I have been on video calls hearing that organisations are working hard to ensure they can accommodate safely, those who can’t or don’t like working from home. There is also a far greater emphasis on mental health than ever before, ensuring staff are looked after, by conducting regular wellbeing surveys and assessments.

In this house though, it is most certainly working for us. We have self-imposed rules and habits we have developed to ensure our children, us and importantly our collective mental health doesn’t suffer. When the children are at school, we start work early to accommodate the school run and are often able to go for a half hour run at some point during the day. While the children are home we are careful to ensure we give adequate time and energy to teaching. We finish work at the same time we would in the office (unless, of course, there is a critical need to continue) and turn off computers and work phones. We make sure to put our laptops, screens and peripherals away at the end of the each week, our office becomes our dining/Lego/art room again and stays that way until Monday morning. This is important for us because right now it is more important than ever that we have a clear divide between home and work.

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If you need any advice on how to ensure the wellbeing of your staff, managing during the pandemic or any other HR matters please do get in touch.

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