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Making the most of a blended work-school-home environment

March 27, 2020

The last 10 days have been interesting for many people across the U.S. who are all adopting social distancing. Those of us who are parents are also adjusting to spending most of our day inside our homes with our children while continuing to work.

I am personally fortunate that my day job, as Chief Operating Officer at B Capital Group, enables me to work anywhere with a laptop and a cellphone. In fact, before the spread of COVID-19 we utilized video calls to connect our team members no matter where in the world they were located. The only two differences between our usual operating model and today’s new reality is that everyone at the company is also working from home, and my wife and I are now home-schooling our four children while we manage our day jobs.

With so many families experiencing similar transitions, I thought it might be useful to share three lessons I have learned that have made each day easier and brought moments of fun and glimmers of hope to an uncertain period.

Create spaces of any size for work and play

Repurposing space is a challenge in any home, and one thing I quickly learned is that it is important to designate areas for both work and play, as well as loud and quiet. In our home, I split the school day working through assignments with our children at our kitchen table and escaping to an upstairs loft area. Pre-COVID-19 our upstairs loft was a place for our children to escape and play and it was filled with Legos and dolls. Post-COVID over the last 10 days we transformed it into a designated quiet space as an office (with the help of a folding table and chair) for me and place of solitude for our ten-year-old to play quietly, with the dog sometimes napping near us.

Our kitchen table has started to feel at moments like a busy Starbucks with quiet periods of work followed by intense bursts of excitement as the kids switch “classes” together. The upstairs loft feels more like a room in a library. While neither space was made for work, the effect of the designation has allowed our kids to know where to release energy and where to find their quiet time.

Set expectations for work and home life

As our team of over 50 employees transitioned from working out of four global offices to working remotely, it was immediately apparent that this means 50 different at-home dynamics to adjust to as well. For all of us, the new norm has meant working through growing pains and understanding we are all sharing time with our families in close quarters.

The reality is, we are all sharing or utilizing space that isn’t where we’d normally work, and we can be more successful as a team if we approach these new setups with patience and humility. I have been very transparent on calls and video chats that we may get interrupted by a barking dog or a questioning child. Everyone is dealing with similar distractions as almost all jobs convert to work from home, and I have found everyone to be very understanding.

It is also important to block off windows when you need to take care of new obligations at home. From a kids’ learning perspective, both my wife and I feel strongly that we want our kids to continue to learn and develop during this time at home. In addition to helping them with lessons and projects provided by their teachers, I hold an hour each morning for “P.E. class” when we all go for a run or play a sport together inside or in our garage. It has proved to be a great way to start each day and helps us stay active together.

There are other windows each day when we parents may not be needed to help with schoolwork, but the new routine isn’t conducive to calls or work that demands a high degree of focus and quiet. In our house, things get a little louder and crazier after 3 p.m. when the kids are “off school.” As a result, I do my best to schedule the most important calls of the day before 3 p.m. and hold the post-school window as a time when my attention might need to be elsewhere.

Allow green shoots to rise during challenging times

Things have changed quickly for many, many people all over the world, and we’re all doing our best to adjust to the new normal. It will be a challenging period but one that I hope many of us will remember fondly when it ends because it gave us so much time to connect with our families when we would otherwise be apart. As a parent, helping my children with schoolwork has also inspired me to look for other ways to supplement their learning so the days are varied. We’ve supplemented school-provided projects with great online options in the arts space, including a daily YouTube drawing lessons by Jarrett Krosockzka (the author and illustrator of Lunch Lady series) and Mo Willems (author of Elephant & Piggie books). There are other great options available for kids to continue to learn including digital books from your local library network, Khan Academy for coding and more science-oriented learning.

Whatever your new normal looks like, we can all be more successful (and stay sane in busy households!) by adding some structure and boundaries that allow us to focus on work and home life when it is most important. These suggestions are just a few of the things my wife and I have learned in the past few weeks, and I’m always looking for other ideas to make this period the best it can be. What suggestions do you have for parents working from home with kids?

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