Work-Life Excellence During COVID-19 (Part 1 of 3)

Building Structures for A Happy and Home-bound Family Life

Part 1 of 3 in a series on work-life excellence at home during COVID-19

By Joanna Koh-Hoe | 5 April 2020

Hopefully the past month has provided some advanced preparation for marketplace executives to learn to effectively work from home. In 3 days' time, all schools and public places, including child care centres, tuition and enrichment centres, and malls will also close for 4 weeks in a "circuit-breaker" effort to curb the local spread of COVID infections. Save for those involved in the delivery of essential services, EVERYONE is to be homebound.

We could spend time debating over what is "essential", which is an important topic for families to discuss and individuals to reflect on [that I will perhaps address in another article], but I suspect most working parents are busy scrambling these few days to make the best of the days to come. Thus, I thought I'd share what I've learnt about home-based work from being on crutches at home following a ski injury - for 8.5 weeks now and still counting...

First of all, let me state that every individual, family, job and home environment is different, so please work these ideas according to your unique situation and needs. To start off, let's check off the necessary structures that will ready us for the new work-life and family-life norms.

Physical structures

Many are stockpiling for the "camp-out" at home - not just in groceries and toilet-paper, but also now electronics and home furniture to support children's home-based learning and for family entertainment. It's good to be physically resourced, but don't jump the gun in purchasing what you might not need (in the long-term), especially since we would want to be more prudent in our family finances given the current economic outlook.

Essential services are still going to remain open and we are not going into total lockdown (yet), so if really necessary, you can still go out to get what you really need - just don a mask when you do, which could prove to be less risky than jostling with the crowds and queues out there right now. Being by nature a careful planner, I have my husband to thank for reminding me of rationality - that we have never needed half of the things on my list, and likely won't ever be needing them.

Given that the whole family is going to be home and working, look into the physical layout of your home. Based on Ellen Kossek's flexstyles, Separators might find themselves most challenged by the need to move the workplace into the home, where the boundaries between work and family life are further blurred. Do you need to mark out different parts of the house so each family member gets their "private workspace"? For parents, it is recommended best practice that your child/teen is in a "public" part of the house when accessing the internet. Would you need to shift things around the house to accommodate everyone's need for accessibility, privacy and accountability?

These new arrangements could drastically change your home atmosphere as you know it. But it doesn't need to be forever and it could turn out for the better! If, like me, you live in a small apartment with clear demarcations where work is out of bounds (e.g. the bedroom), these boundaries would need to be relooked. Where it is not possible to allocate specific rooms for specific use or specific family members, don't despair - there are mental structures you can put in place to maintain sanity at home for everyone!

Mental structures

As a parent, you are probably finding yourself becoming the CEO of your family's "social enterprise" overnight. Other than managing your own work deadlines, you now need to oversee your children's home-based learning schedules as well as their free time. Routine provides structure and predictability, which is key to successfully getting your whole family through this phase of life.

Get everyone involved in drawing up the family's schedule, which should include who needs/gets to use the laptop (and when, where, for how long), a roster for household chores now that all family meals will be at home, and even time slots for recreation, nap, exercise and family time. It can be as detailed as by the half hour (if you have young kids), or setting general guidelines for how often you will be engaging in certain activities. If you have a teenager like I do, have them share with you their plan for how they are going to spend each day, including time they get to connect with their peers or for their favourite gaming activity online, as well as uninterrupted time for their schoolwork and protected time for family interactions.

Being confined at home 24/7 as a family can send chills down a working parent's spine. While "idle hands make for the devil's workshop", boredom is not necessarily a bad thing, if we channel it well. As Plato put it, "Necessity is the mother of invention." There has been some research to show that basic, classic toys are best in promoting creativity and holistic development in children. There have also been sufficient studies showing the adverse impact on children and youth of the overuse or unsupervised use of digital devices. Just as this current crisis has forced many companies to reinvent themselves, this can be a good time for children to learn to be creative in entertaining themselves without resorting to the screen.

Routine provides structure and predictability, which is key to successfully getting your whole family through this phase of life.

Clear expectations of how family and school/work life are going to come together in the days ahead will provide reassurance for everyone at home. Even if some arrangements are still up in the air and life in the new norm is work-in-progress, keeping even our children in the loop of possible changes will mentally prepare them that we're in this altogether - as a family.

Emotional structures

These often get overlooked in the rush to make practical arrangements, but undergird our overall well-being. Not everyone takes well to change, especially those forced upon us and which need to take place without much prior notice. Furthermore, many of us are already worried about the various implications that this unprecedented crisis poses on our lives.

It is important to keep calm and stay positive, especially if we want our children to respond similarly and behave cooperatively. This may be easier said than done. In the midst of all these transitions, make sure you structure some "me-time" - to take a breather, get perspective, lament, or even to have a cry over the challenging circumstances.

If you are a social creature by personality, and working from home causes you to feel isolated, build social interactions into your daily schedule. Video calls don't have to be used solely for online work meetings. If digitised methods make you feel more disconnected, try the classic way of phonecalls and letter-writing, which have proven to lend more personal touch and encourage more in-depth sharing.

It is important to keep calm and stay positive, especially if we want our children to respond similarly and behave cooperatively.

Most of all, this crisis is a time like no other to turn the motherhood statement on the importance of family support into practical reality. Start with checking on how everyone in the family is doing and feeling, and then progress to conversations around COVID-19 and its impact. In a subsequent article, I will share some things that my family has tried to do together that have provided much-needed bonding, as well as fun and laughter which is good medicine for the human soul!

Working parents, we can do this! As someone who is known to be a (recovered) workaholic, highly driven and cannot-keep-still, I have survived 2 months at home with a happy and intact family. I'm confident you can do it, too!

This was first published on Joanna's LinkedIn page.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


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