by Kevin Eikenberry, co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute
Over the past year I’ve worked with a number of people new to the world of remote work. I recently got an email from a client who was pretty frustrated. She was at the end of her rope trying to figure out how to get past what she termed, “workforce roadblocks that are impossible to solve.”
Normally my first thought would be her “roadblocks” are something technology-related, or maybe even a communication issue with her boss or a co-worker. No, in this case, the “impossible roadblocks” were everything in her life, including her family!
She went on to add, “I’m taking on the role of caring for and managing five kids while I work, one of whom is two and has no concept of mommy’s working. All this while trying to manage a nine to ten-hour workday, in a full-time job that has no room for let-up. My house is a disaster, my kids are losing their cool, my spouse and I are struggling to work in the same room…”
Does this sound familiar to you?
My client isn’t alone. In fact, I hear similar stories from my own team. Our team are old-pros at working remotely, so you’d think that this situation hasn’t impacted them at all. After all, many of them have been working from home for years. What’s changed?
Having the kids and spouse home has changed…everything! And that’s a big change for even the most seasoned remote workers. It’s one thing to do your job from home when it’s just you and maybe the family dog or cat. It’s another when, like my client, you have your job, the kids schoolwork to stay on top of, and a spouse who, even though they might be helping, is also doing his/her job, maybe in the same room! And that’s on top of trying to learn on the fly all the new changes that come with remote work.
Is it any wonder people are reaching their wit’s end so quickly?
I wish I had a one-size-fits-all solution to working from home with your family, but I don’t. What I can offer are several tips that can help reduce some of the stress you may be experiencing.
Leaders need to take on a new role
First, something for you as a leader. I don’t believe my client was really looking for an answer. I think she just wanted to tell somebody about her feelings. She needed to vent. You need to realize that people on your team might need to vent, too…and you need to let them.
I can hear you saying, “Well, Kevin, that’s the touchy feely stuff. That’s not my area” or “I don’t have an answer for them, so why would we even bring it up?” Right now, your team members don’t need you to have an answer – they need you to listen.
They want and need your ear, not your expertise; they need your acknowledgement, not an answer.
What you can do: Breaks and boundaries
And now for you, if you can feel any of my client’s pain, here are two pieces of advice:
- Take some breaks. I recommend one about every 60 to 75 minutes you work. Take that time and spend it with your kids. Make sure they’re caught up on the work they have, but make sure they’re taking breaks, too. You can model that for them and enjoy some time with them. Remember, as much as this whole situation has rattled you, think about the effect it may be having on your children. Their world has changed, too and they need you to be a leader in their lives.
- Set some boundaries. You can say, “Mommy (or Dad) is working right now” and that’s okay. If they know you’re going to take the breaks I recommended, they’ll likely be a bit more patient. Set a timer that lets everyone know when that next break is going to happen. And when the timer goes off, unless you’re in the middle of some crisis that just can’t do without you, give them your undivided attention.
Those are just a couple of things you can do do help you manage your life during this challenging time. It won’t be easy because you’re all learning something new, but with a little bit of communication and a whole lot of grace and love for each other, you and your family will emerge from this crisis smiling and maybe even with some lasting memories created of the time you spent together.
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