Originally published on LinkedIn March 26, 2020
Last weekend I asked my Facebook followers if they had any ideas for blog topics related to working and schooling at home and a friend posted this:
“Most of our school’s families are struggling with defining schedule and space. We give them a schedule with online synchronous and asynchronous instruction from 8:30 to 1:30 but they can’t quite get in a routine leading into and out of that time. Many also haven’t created distinct spaces in their homes for work and school. The change in routine and boundaries are challenges for families who are accustomed to home, work and school bring separate spaces and schedules.”
I have a feeling many are struggling to find the balance between a parent’s need to be online core hours and the school’s expectation for when kids doing the same. For over 10 years I worked from home for major tech companies and homeschooled my daughter, so I really feel like I have street cred on this topic. It is possible to do both without losing your mind.
The key to success is scheduling and flexibility from schools and employers. Expecting people to move from the public to a private setting and maintain the same hours as in the office is going to be problematic and there is no reason school has to follow the same hours as in a physical building. If both institutions can flex at all, they need to do so. If you have a job where you maintain your own calendar like I did, you can control your level of chaos better than most.
Despite working at home, I have always had daily and weekly calls that I had to dial into. Additionally, I spend hours daily phone screening candidates, but I am in control of when they are scheduled. These were the first thing set in stone on my our daily schedule then I looked at my daughter’s schooling needs and lifestyle to see where there would be conflicts and where we could resolve them.
It quickly became apparent that if I shifted my workday a little earlier and her school day a little later, everyone was happy. I’m not gonna lie and say this worked every day. Some days required juggling and sometimes entire weeks went by where the wheels came off. I’d say it worked 80% of the time, which was enough.
Here is what a typical day looked like for us.
As you can see, during an average day, I had blocks of time for calls and meetings when I would have Roma working on schoolwork that didn’t require supervision. Other blocks of time were for more interactive things where she needed my attention. It worked well for us to let her stay up later and sleep in so I could have work time in the morning that was uninterrupted.
There is really no reason that kids should be expected to get up at the same time they did to go to school if they are learning at home. In fact, many studies have showing the negative impact on learning of lack of sleep, especially among teens. Perhaps schools could shift synchronous learning (times when they expect all the kids to be online together) to mid afternoon that would help. If there is a minimum expectation of how many hours of learning activities are needed then everyone can relax about how time is spent the rest of the time. The guideline in California used to be 3-4 hours of instructional time daily for 180 days in a year was a “school year” for elementary kids. As parents if you hit 4ish hours of “learning” daily you are doing well. High schoolers should be doing 5-6 hours but the good news is that they are a lot more capable of working on their own than the littles are.
Also, there is no reason for companies to insist workers keep the same hours at home since very few things that are able to be done at home are 100% time bound. The exceptions would be scheduled calls and meetings but most other tasks happen when they happen.
Once you have a schedule that works for you, the negotiation of the physical space is important. Not everyone will have a dedicated office in the house. Not all homes are big enough for kids to school in one room while mom and dad work in another. However, get flexible to make it work. At one point we had a small popup tent in the middle of the living room and Roma would go in there and do school. I’ve sat on beds in other people’s houses to do conference calls when I travelled. I’ve done work from patio tables. I’ve even sat in my car to have a private call with a client when I couldn’t find privacy where I was at. Get creative.
School and work can happen anywhere in your house. Perhaps you have a rule that the kitchen table is a desk during certain hours. As long as everyone in the house agrees, you can set up any work/school zones you want.
In a lot of ways, there are no rules right now. Yankee ingenuity and flexibility are the key to success for getting through this transition period until we can get back to a normal routine.
About Marie Watkins
Marie Watkins is Founder and CEO of Polaris Talent Inc. She has 25 years in HR and Talent Acquisition for companies from 2 people to 200K. She is passionate about helping companies find the right talent to hire and in helping job seekers find a job they enjoy going to on Monday morning. Marie is a subject matter expert in entrepreneurship and volunteers her time helping emerging companies grow. Polaris Talent Inc is a recruiting-as-a service company (an RPO) that offers outsourced talent acquisition services to companies that need technical, sales, or leadership talent.