Between building blocks, cuddly toys and a laptop... Working from home with a toddler

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Anyone starting a new blog is probably wondering which topic they could or should write about first. I have approached this question quite analytically: first, I brainstormed which topics I could write about in general and then prioritized them according to my current interest. After that, I had my first topic and started to write. But then Covid-19 hit Germany. Kindergartens were closed and since then everyone should work from home if possible. My priority changed suddenly and with that so did my first topic.

Currently, the most important thing for me is to create a way of working that allows me and my family to work and at the same time take care of our 1.5-year-old. In this post, I will share my first four lessons learned from one week of the home office with a toddler at home.

About our background: my husband and I both work full-time in IT. Our son usually goes to kindergarten. Grandparents and babysitters are (unfortunately) not available.

Living transparently

After the initial shock and the uncertainty on how to proceed, I informed my team about the upcoming challenges with my work-family schedule as soon as possible. For the time being, the only information I was able to share was the official status that my son cannot visit the kindergarten for the next couple of weeks and that I would not be able to work like I normally do during this time. I also added that unfortunately, I had no idea how we would organise the new situation, but I promised to keep them informed. It means being vulnerable, exposing yourself and asking for help and support. This can be tough, but also very powerful as Brené Brown would put it. In addition, often people enjoy helping and supporting others. To my relief, this was also the case in my team. I immediately got support and thus had one less thing to worry about.

Now, after a week, I regularly share when and how I will work. When I can make meetings and when I can be reached better via chat or email. Blockers in the calendar and setting a status in chat tools help other colleagues who are not working directly in the team get updates on my availability.

Introducing routines

Routines, in terms of our regular family habits and ceremonies, are extremely helpful for our son and also for myself. As a family, we have both weekly and daily routines. For example, every Sunday my husband and I would always make a plan on who would bring or pick up the child from daycare for the following week. While now, we clarify who can work in the morning and who in the afternoon, what we want to eat and who goes shopping. Our day now begins for our son with a digital morning circle. The morning circle is a common ceremony in many kindergartens. The children are sitting together singing songs or are discussing what they are planning to do during the day. Since there is no kindergarten at the moment the parents in ThoughtWorks decided to have a morning circle via zoom in which we now sit with our children and exchange ideas on how to spend the day, share experiences and yes, sometimes we also sing a song.

Afterwards, when one of us starts working, the other one takes care of the child. After lunch and a nap, we swap. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we try to eat all together as a family.

Staying flexible

The opposite of flexibility is endless meetings, especially the back to back ones. With the abrupt switch from normal work to work from home, the first thought that came to mind was that we needed new meetings to coordinate. But new regular meetings make it even more difficult for parents to organize a new work-family schedule and there are other ways to keep the team and yourself up to date. Communication in the team can also be asynchronous via email and chat. Larger topics that several people are working on together can be dealt with in a working document. Of course, all participants have to write down their updates.

We questioned all our meetings: Which ones are important and require our presence? Which meetings are important to us personally? Which ones can be postponed or rescheduled? And which ones are actually completely unimportant? Is somebody else joining the meeting and I could get an update afterwards?

I also started to ask more often if meetings that are just for information exchange can be recorded. This helps me a lot since I can watch the recording afterwards in a faster run, e.g. with 1.5x or even 2x speed. If there is a transcript available another idea is to read the transcript and jump directly to the important points.

During the current week, I identified five meetings that were important to me personally and needed my attendance. Two of them I needed to reschedule. I canceled eight meetings, but plan to watch one recording and asked a colleague about an update for another meeting.

It’s amazing how quickly you have the air to work and not just sit in calls.

Taking a break and accepting

One of my biggest worries was that I would miss out on something important. That everyone else would continue at the same speed as before, only I couldn’t keep up because I have to take care of my child. In addition, I was asking myself how to fill my working hours. This thinking is leading to skipping breaks, working very early or very late or trying to focus on work and child at the same time. Soon life consists only of sleeping, working and caring for your child. Therefore one of my most important insights is: take a break and accept the new situation!

From my perspective it is not possible to work full-time, to take care of a child and to stay healthy - physically as well as mentally. To admit this to myself was difficult, but also liberating.

And if you think about it nobody is working from home as they would normally do. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Many people have children at home. And everyone is distracted at some level.

At the moment I try to enjoy the extra time this pandemic and the resulting work situation is giving me with my little one. In the end, we are all in this together and learn step by step how to handle all the new challenges.