Conference calls from the sandpit: How to achieve the right work family balance under lockdown

17 Jun 2020 · 4 min read

How one working parent has adapted to the ‘new normal’ of balancing her domestic and professional roles.

Silvia Andrade Edwards author square

Written by

Silvia Andrade Edwards, Head of Global Commercial Planning

Voices of Change business advice by Philip Morris International employees

Our Swiss household was thrown into disarray when lockdown was introduced.

For the first two weeks, my husband and I struggled to juggle the demands of our two children and our jobs. There was tension and panic, and little to smile about.

But that gradually changed once we’d learned how to plan for our new environment. The storm passed. Calm was restored. And as a family, we began to thrive. So, too, did my husband and I in our professional capacities.

By drawing up and sticking to routines and schedules, we struck the right balance. In doing so, we opened the gateway to a level of contentment and family connection we’d never had before.

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(Posed by model. © Getty Images)

The challenges of balancing childcare and careers

Of our two children – a young girl and teenage boy – it was our daughter who presented the biggest challenge.

She’s too young to be left to her own devices, even for short bursts of time. She requires constant entertainment, engagement, and care.

As difficult as that proved early on in lockdown, we didn’t want to rely on screens and technology to keep her occupied. My husband and I had to step up.

The needs of our son couldn’t be ignored either. Although he’s much more independent, we were mindful that he wasn’t seeing his friends, and was likely feeling the impact of lockdown in a different way to us.

We needed to find time to be with him and complement the things he was potentially missing by not being at school.

Communication and planning are key

All of this equated to a quandary that perplexed my husband and I in those initial weeks: How do we fulfil our professional responsibilities, while providing care and attention to our children at the same time?

For us, it’s all about planning, communication, flexibility, and composure.

Every Sunday, we plan out the week ahead. Typically, my husband is on domestic duty for the first half of the day – looking after our daughter and preparing lunch.

I take over in the late afternoon, cooking dinner and putting our daughter to bed. Then the cycle repeats.

There are caveats and exceptions to the rules, of course. For instance, if my husband goes shopping early in the day, or out on a bike ride with our son, I step in to look after our daughter. And vice versa.

It’s all about planning, communication, flexibility, and composure

“I feel like I’m an octopus”: Juggling work and family commitments

Without question, I am super-stretched. My working hours have had to adapt accordingly. On an average day, I start calls at 7 a.m. with our teams in Japan, Korea or Hong Kong, and work until around 3 or 4 p.m.

After my children are in bed, I will often log back in and work for several more hours. On Wednesdays, I catch up on rest, ready for the remainder of the week. 

It’s not easy, I’ll admit. Right now, I feel like an octopus. It’s not unusual to find me on a video call and cooking dinner at the same time.

But while I previously panicked when my daughter interrupted a video meeting with my boss or colleagues, I’m learning that this is an acceptable side-effect of the new normal.

Although I’m sharing a lot more of my home life than I’d ever intended with colleagues, it’s reassuring that people understand I’m having to use all eight of my arms at once!

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Transforming how you manage and assess life

It’s all about changing your mindset and realizing you won’t be adversely judged for joining conference calls while chopping onions or playing in your child’s sandpit (not on my own, I should add).

Thanks to this new level of understanding, coupled with the advantages of flexible hours, I can do my job as effectively and efficiently as before – if not more so.

Home-working has brought balance and benefits to both my family and work life.

Lockdown has helped me transform the way I manage my life and assess the importance of things. While once passing ships, my family is now a tight-knit team unit – helping each other out, communicating, strengthening bonds, and creating happy memories.

For us, and for many millions of working parents the world over, this has been an unexpected but magical experience.

Is flexible working our new normal?

Surely, therefore, so long as work performances don’t dip and where jobs can accommodate it without adverse impact, flexible working will play a more prominent role once the dust of the COVID-19 crisis settles?

Where some may have once raised an eyebrow about home-working, this crisis has revolutionized many people’s attitude towards it. People can be as productive as in the office. Or even more so.

This realization may influence companies to create job opportunities that offer both the riches of flourishing careers and flourishing family lives – each one of which drives and inspires the other.

For decades – centuries even – we have traveled to work to provide for our families.

Perhaps now the foundations are being laid for a future in which the fruits of our labor can play out in front of our eyes.

Ten tips on making flexible working work

  • Manage expectations and set clear deliverables at home and at work.
  • Communicate regularly: with your team and your family.
  • Make your ‘working’ hours fluid but set boundaries.
  • Draw up schedules and lists – but be adaptable to change.
  • Fight preconceptions: who said you can’t join a video conference on a personal errand?
  • Offer guidance, support, and reassurance to team members and extended teams.
  • Practice writing up ‘not-to-do’ lists.
  • Be authentic, and unafraid to show your true colors.
  • Don’t feel bad or apologize if your child interrupts an important meeting.
  • Ask for help if needed, and don’t be too hard on yourself!

 

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