As we continue to learn how to adapt and operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have had to transition into working from home rather than the office. Working from home comes with many new challenges, including maintaining productivity levels, headspace and avoiding distraction. For people with children, however, there are additional challenges to face.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 3 in 4 mothers with dependent children in the UK were in work from April to June 2019. This highlights the high percentage of women who are facing significant challenges in 2020 – in employment, schooling, and childcare. Learning to balance childcare with working from home will also have created more significant challenges if, prior to the pandemic, these women were primarily office-based.
Although it may not be an easy task to adapt to this new work-life balance, it is certainly attainable.
Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group, is a mother of two children alongside holding a senior position at the FTSE 250 company as well as a non-executive Director. She is, therefore, no stranger to the challenges that come with both of these important roles.
Maintain Open Communication With Your Manager
Within a business, leadership teams ultimately have a responsibility and duty of care for all team members, so although it may be difficult to raise any personal challenges and struggles, they are the best people to turn to for help.
“During this time, it is key for us to keep in mind that we are not alone in feeling these challenges – many women and mothers are facing the same work-life balance difficulties as you are, given the unsettling changes to schools and remote working. By raising any challenges you’re facing – whether that’s a result of working from home for the first time or having to juggle childcare with working hours, if you don’t mention these problems as they arise with your manager, a solution will be harder to find.”
As we learn to adapt to this new normal, and balance lockdown restrictions with trying to resume regular activities, any work-life balance struggles could intensify. The lockdown period presented new challenges for those mothers trying to balance both their jobs and home-schooling but managing children now they have returned to school can create new pressures such as the school run and ensuring children are happy and safe away from the home. In particular, these challenges are likely to be much more significant for those in single-parent households.
However, in order to ensure that you’re in the best position for performing and managing well at work during this time, these are all areas that should be considered by employers.
“It’s important to remember that you, as a working mother, have support. Make sure to let your manager know and reach out for help. The workplace has progressed significantly in recent years and employers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of having a strong work-life balance, so your employer is likely to be as supportive as possible to ensure you’re able to get your job done well whilst balancing home life at the same time.”
Flexible working hours that allow you to complete the school run and make up time later, or working more closely with your manager to ensure that tasks from your to-do list don’t spill over into personal time are both possible options that could be explored with your line manager.
Ensure face-to-face time is continued
Working in an office provides us with regular face-to-face time with colleagues which many of us may have previously taken for granted and found an unusual change since working from home.
Although many of us have found alternative ways to communicate, including through video calls (Zoom fatigue has become a real challenge), it is still key to have regular communication between you, your line manager, and team, in order to ensure to-do lists are adequately managed. By doing this, you can help avoid to-do list tasks and pressure piling up, which can end up having a knock-on effect on your productivity and disrupt a positive work-life balance.
“As I’m sure many people agree, in the pre-COVID-19 world, video calls were something many of us avoided – and now, they’re one of the most effective ways to communicate and have normal conversations with friends, family and colleagues!
“However, it’s critical that you’re utilising face-to-face time or, at the very least, regular phone calls to keep up to date with your team and line manager in particular. It’s now much harder for managers to keep tabs on employee happiness and struggles so, alongside being open and transparent, ensure that this communication is frequent in order to discuss workload, personal wellbeing and any challenges inside or outside work.”
It is also worth considering having a mentor for support during this time – remaining accountable for responsibilities will help to maintain your work-life balance in the long run. Avoiding or pushing tasks back is only likely to increase the stress of work and affect your ability to switch off – especially when childcare and parenting are also a top priority.
Keeping in touch with colleagues on a more informal level is also important too – we would usually spend time with our workmates at the coffee machine or during lunch but as this isn’t possible, making time for video calls can be a good alternative to prevent you from feeling out of the loop. Research shows that morale within the workplace can be improved by socialising with co-workers without sacrificing productivity which is extremely important as we settle into working remotely.
Create Boundaries To Separate Work And Home
With both work and personal downtime now taking place under one roof for many of us, it’s essential that boundaries are put in place to ensure that we can fully switch off at the end of the working day.
The majority of workers were previously able to leave any work stresses in the office at the end of the day but this isn’t as easy when work is now only a room. If not handled properly, it is now much easier for work stresses and challenges to have a knock-on effect into our personal lives.
Debbie shares some ways that this can be handled:
“If there is an area in your home that can now be set up as a home office, make sure to utilise it. Now, this doesn’t mean spending lots of money on new equipment to build an office, the importance is more on having a dedicated area for work to take place – away from the communal areas where you spend time with your family.
“If you don’t have a separate space available and are working from a communal area such as a dining room, make a clear distinction between the working day and when the working day ends. Physically pack your laptop away, out of sight, until the next day when the working day commences again. If you never have an official end to the working day, your work-life balance will be affected negatively.
“Be sure to speak to your employer about whether a working from home budget is available – or if you can claim back on expenses – to purchase equipment such as a chair or desk that could help with posture and preventing back pain. Now that working from home is likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future, it’s vital that you don’t cause any damage to your posture working in inappropriate conditions”.
Following on from Debbie’s point, it may be useful for working parents to bear in mind that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) “will consider claims from employees working at home due to coronavirus measures if their usual workplace is closed”.
Although COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our work-life balance and created plenty of new challenges and changes that working parents have not previously experienced, we can still take steps to ensure that we retain a positive work-life balance. With support from line managers and co-workers and working to maintain a good mindset by managing our surroundings, it is possible for working mothers to effectively take control of the many elements of their lives, in both 2020 and years to come.
Author bio: Debbie Lentz joined Electrocomponents plc as the President of Global Supply Chain in 2017. Debbie is responsible for leading the further development of the Group’s supply chain capability to provide an innovative and sustainable market-leading service for customers and suppliers.
Photo Credits: Pixabay