How to WFH With Your Spouse, Parents, And Kids - And Remain Sane
STORY: Jenny Tai
25 March 2020
To many, WFH seems idyllic. Working in pyjamas, eating homecooked meals, no boss breathing down your neck and zero commute. What’s not to like? Well, add a spouse, parents and curious kids with no sense of personal space into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a realistic WFH situation rife with distractions.
Amid the spread of COVID-19 and the big shift to WFH, those who are accustomed to working in office environments may feel unmoored by the lack of routine and boundaries between your work life and home life, with kids clamouring over your keyboard.
“When kids see that both parents are at home, they feel that it’s like a normal weekend” and expect parents to give them attention and time, shared Ishita Mitra, an engineering and manufacturing firm employee who has been working from home for two weeks. It’s a predicament I’m familiar with, as I’ve worked from home for several years now and birthed a second child in between. Juggling work demands with frenzied family life concurrently is daunting, but you can do it. Here’s how to WFH in a full house without losing your mind.
For the sake of your marriage, work and family life, create a separate WFH space
The other day, an acquaintance joked that she realised what had made her marriage last all these years. It wasn’t love, it was working in different offices. Spouses who both WFH may echo that sentiment.
“Room demarcation should be done with your spouse from day one to avoid interference,” said Ishita. Here are examples of spousal interferences based on real life:
- Your spouse asking you to make him a sandwich when you’re working
- Your spouse acting like you’re their tech support
- Damn noisy typing
- Stress burps
- Your spouse snoozing infuriatingly in your bedroom-cum-office when you’ve been fielding work calls since 8am
WFH is tricky because family members aren’t used to boundaries. Opt for physical barriers, like a room that you can close the door to for better focus. If you don’t have that option and must work in a communal area at home, put those headphones to work.
In addition to preparing a WFH space, develop a WFH mindset: “To be more effective in WFH, we need to mimic office settings,” recommends Genevieve Loo, a pharmaceuticals employee who has been working from home for two weeks. “Sometimes if I need to attend a video call, I will put on my office attire. Plan meetings ahead and ensure there are breaks between calls.”
Lower your expectations (looking at you, kiasu parents)
Amid WFH challenges, enforcing a newly conceived, colour-coded and atas schedule for your lovable but feral kids is an undertaking not worth pursuing, especially when said schedule will last all of two days. Likewise, forget setting up an elaborate Pintrest project for your kids when your boss is chasing you about some way-past-deadline deadline. WFH parents, let’s save our kiasu-ness for another time – we are in the middle of a global pandemic and the key is just to survive.
As you find your bearings, don’t expect to be productive in the same way that you’re used to. Some people’s WFH schedule may include running errands for their elderly parents and making up for the lost time by working through lunch. Conversely, my prime working hours are after my kids’ bedtimes. For Genevieve, kid-related disruptions are par for the course, but she makes sure to clear all work and emails by day’s end, as she would’ve done in the office. The path to WFH productivity looks different for different people, and that’s okay.
Structuring your day can help everyone
Create a basic, uncomplicated routine that everyone can follow, taking into consideration your kid’s age, school hours and homework, activities they like that require minimum supervision, and what they can realistically handle. Delegate! Ask your parents and helper to occupy your kid with said activities when you’re working. Try to save screen time as that prized trick up your sleeve for really difficult times.
Prioritise your most pressing work for when the kids are at school, because that time is golden. Got an infant? Naptime is your go-time, so schedule your work around them. Also, make your work hours very clear to everyone in the household – as in, from the hours of x to x, you are off limits unless someone is on fire. (If your spouse/parents/kids wouldn’t phone you at the office to do such-and-such, then ought they request it when you WFH? Boundaries!!!)
For Ishita, Skype calls can be challenging at home as her daughter would understandably bang loudly on the closed door to seek attention. To preclude this, alert your spouse to any upcoming conference calls at the start of the week; this way, at least one of you can keep an eye on the kids during those key hours.
Remember that we’re in this together
As challenging as WFH can be, there are upsides too. Genevieve cites quality time with her family, especially her kid, as a key benefit. For her, a simple evening walk with her child and the accompanying conversation is rewarding.
“The best part is the flexibility and being with family more,” said Ishita. “We give our daughter more time than usual, which I missed. It was a drawback when working in the office. I sacrificed a lot of family time, especially when I was going for long business trips.”
When the going gets tough, remember that across Singapore and the world, people are facing WFH situations and varying levels of disruptions caused by COVID-19. Many of us are on the same boat: turning off the camera and mic during video calls, fixing 20 snacks a day for our kids, being nagged at by well-meaning parents, and feeling cooped up with everyone encroaching on our space.
Cherish and view WFH as the privilege that it is
Years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, I’d answer emails during her mid-day bath. Sitting there on the cold bathroom floor, my laptop propped on a stool next to the tub and typing away as my child splashed around, spraying my sleeve with droplets, I felt decidedly unprofessional about my WFH situation. But I wouldn’t have traded that memory for anything.
In spite of all the chaos, WFH is a privilege, allowing us to earn an income at home while experiencing moments of family life that are at once quotidian and fleeting. If this is what your WFH situation looks like right now with your loved ones in the house, one day it will be a cherished memory.