For many, today marks the first day of home schooling or childcare responsibilities.
I certainly know in our household, as with many other households, that this is the start of what is likely to be a long period of adjustment.
For those who have been urged by the government to work from home, this adjustment is not only about figuring out how to work from home effectively, what room to work from, how to set up computers and laptops and chairs, but how to do the same whilst juggling children at home.
In life before COVID-19, it would be almost unthinkable to attempt to do a full day of work with children at home, let alone be settling in to do this for the many weeks that lie ahead.
It might be that you are in a household where you are the only one caring for children at home, or you might be able to share the caring with others in your household.
Whatever your individual circumstances, the adjustment is going to be difficult, and challenging, but there are things that you can do to make it as manageable as possible.
1. Accept that there will be disruption to your daily working life, that long periods of concentration may not be possible and that productivity will be affected.
2. Be kind to yourself.
3. Allow for a period of adapting to the adjustment and accept that you might not like it but know that you will get through it.
4. Remember that many work colleagues, supervisors, line managers, friends, are likely to be dealing with the same issue. Connect with them and share experiences.
5. Make a plan for each day to give the day structure but be prepared for it to be flexible.
Legal rights – what can you ask of your employers?
1. Consider using holiday leave to either make new childcare arrangements or look after your children yourself whilst they are not in school. This might help with a week here and there but given the likely length of the measures currently in place, this might not work in the long term.
2. Consider asking for dependant leave. This is usually unpaid leave but some employers will offer payment so it is worth checking your contract. Anyone who has someone who ‘depends on them’ is entitled to take it. It is unlikely to be a long-term solution but it might be useful to use for a few days whilst you adjust to all being at home together.
3. Consider asking for parental leave. Every parent of a child or adopted child is entitled to take a maximum of 18 weeks per child, up to the child’s 18th birthday. This is always unpaid leave and is normally taken in weekly periods. You need to be eligible and have been with the company for more than a year in order to use this.
4. Consider proposing a flexible working arrangement that allows you to work as best you can whilst also managing children at home over this period of disruption, for example:
a. Could your work-day be split with a partner, or relative so that someone works early (7am-1pm) and someone works later (1pm – 6pm) and additional hours are worked in an evening if needed.
b. If you work part time already can you reduce your hours worked each day but increase your days worked over the week.
c. If you don’t work part time could you consider asking to work part time on a temporary basis for the coming weeks.
d. Can you work your hours outside of your employer’s normal working hours.
e. Can you work on weekends when others might be around to look after children and swap these days for some of your normal working days.
f. Consider whether you could ask to work compressed hours, working longer hours over fewer days on a temporary basis.
Whether flexible working would work for you, will depend very much on your role and normal working pattern, however now is the time to be considering creative ways in which you can meet work commitments whilst looking after children at home, and whilst maintaining a degree of sanity.
The key is to open discussions with your employer sooner rather than later. Put forward suggestions that you think can work and why, and be prepared to be flexible about them. Ideally get an agreement to a temporary change in working pattern in writing, and keep it under review.
We are in an unprecedented situation where millions of us are facing the same issues. Whilst that doesn’t make them easier to deal with, what it does mean is that employers are likely to understand and accept that disruption is inevitable.
What is important is demonstrating the steps you are taking to continue as best you can, in light of the unsettling circumstances.