Back in March 2020, two weeks into the lockdown, my wonderful friend and a superb leadership coach Amelia Saberwal and I ran a webinar on working from home with kids. We shared practical advice for work and home, basing them on our professional knowledge of coaching tools but only two weeks of practical experience of living and working in lockdown.
Here is the reality check of that advice, based on six months of WFH with kids:
Assume WFH with kids until September
This sounded extreme to many people on the webinar but turned out to be 100% correct.
My husband and I adopted this assumption to create certainty in those very uncertain times. We were then able to build on this certainty and accept the new reality, focusing on problem-solving and discovering some practices that will stay with us for longer than the COVID emergency.
Find a new routine. The Wall Plan
Good idea, bad first execution. The Wall Plan that I crafted so carefully, with 30 min slots dedicated to different homeschooling activities, was a flop! Following it eliminated the last bits of freedom that were left. Kids started to consider regular calls with grandparents as a chore. However, preparing the Wall Plan, discussing it and trying to follow it for a couple of weeks, helped us to find a new more natural routine. The new plan was: I work in the morning, you care for the kids and cook lunch, then we change shifts. The best part was that those trials and discussions helped my husband and me to establish the work shifts and so communicate more predictable work hours to our colleagues, and to split the chores. It was so liberating not to ever discuss the chores during the five months that followed, to remove this potential trigger for arguments. I am gonna keep this guy for life!
Design your working from home
hmmmm. I am heavily reviewing my position on living and working in an apartment in Central London.
Yes! We excelled in this with the 3yo barging in during video calls while commenting on the STOP sign on a closed door. It helped that he is so adorable.
It was interesting to notice how people on the call would follow our lead in reacting to this happening. If you stay relaxed about your kid entering, they show understanding and start engaging with your child. If you are tense, they catch it up.
Prioritise the relationship over the job done
Absolutely! Particularly with homeschooling. Would you prefer spending some fun and engaging time with your child and compromising on homework to a moaning 6yo with a glazed-over look with homework effectively done by you? I preferred the cooperating one and spending fun time, for my own sanity!
Lawyers can make flexible work a success
Yes! WFH has proved to work for the legal profession, banking and other face-to-face jobs. It is possible to be efficient, to deliver, to negotiate, to close deals remotely and still feel home at home. It helped that all of us were put in the same situation and looking for ways to make it work.
Now, many professionals in face-to-face jobs are deciding not to go back to five days in the office but to work flexibly to maintain the newly gained balance.
Yes, there are still many habitual things to be modernised in the profession, including around performance reviews and billable hours culture. But the mind-shift is done. The next step is to fine-tune it for your circumstances.