Lots of families are facing down a situation of virtual schooling this fall. While a number of daycares have re-opened, there is going to be an on-going risk of sudden, two-week closures. And so one of the most common questions I’m getting these days as I talk about The New Corner Office is how to work from home with kids around.
My answer is the same now as it was pre-Covid. Long term, if you have young kids, and want to work from home effectively, you cannot be the adult in charge during the hours you choose to work. That is much more complicated now with many schools not providing during-the-day coverage. But it is still true.
That said, you don’t have to go the full-time nanny route. The other adult in charge can be your partner, even if your partner works too. These days, a lot more people are working from home than in the past. If you and your partner are both working from home for the next few months, and have relatively flexible jobs (or at least enough autonomy not to get fired for setting your own hours), you can each get 30 mostly focused hours to work each week through swapping coverage — mostly within the standard business day. If you are facing down a fall of coupling videoconferences and kid Zoom tech support, here’s a schedule that might work.
First, we assume that any young kids who are home nap from 1-3 p.m. or so, and older children could do screen time or independent reading/work during this time. One party is still “on” during this window to deal with disruptions, but will probably be able to work. The party covering up until 1 p.m. is responsible for starting this nap/quiet time. (This schedule doesn’t really build in transitions — I assume the adults just pass the baton quickly.)
Second, we assume that the party in charge not only keeps the kids safe, he/she keeps the kids out of the other person’s home office during this time. This is key. Work hours need to be work hours. This is an active job. Party A cannot wander off to do yard work, leaving Party B to deal with a kid banging on the door to announce that the laptop has frozen up.
Anyway, during half the weeks, party A works from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. window is “pure” focused time; the 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. window is probable time (when Party A is “on” but this is understood to be screen/nap time). Party A also works from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.
Party B works the opposite hours: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday (with 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. being focused hours, and 1-3 p.m. being probable hours).
During half the weeks, the parties flip the Friday schedule, so party B works from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays and party A works 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
If you add this up, each person has 29 available hours on one week of the schedule, and 31 hours on another. In each week, 25 hours feature sure coverage, and 4-6 hours are nap/quiet time. Each party can do some morning calls and some afternoon engagements.
Now, of course, the caveats. Both parties have to be committed to this schedule and to mostly limiting work to the covered hours. This means they’ll probably need to share this schedule with team members and do the work of extricating themselves from non-covered stuff. A quick email check is one thing, but trying to slip in a videoconference is another thing entirely. If the kids mostly have morning virtual schooling, both parties need to be capable of managing it. There can be the occasional swap. If you are pitching a multi-million dollar project to a new client who can only meet at a certain time, you can ask for a “sub” credit. If sub credits become a daily or even weekly thing, though, the system will break down.
On the other hand, 30 working hours without paid childcare isn’t bad at all — especially since these are all “normal” hours. No 5 a.m. sessions required! A couple who needed to work more could investigate morning/evening/weekend swaps (each party works from 6-10 p.m. one night a week, for instance, or from 6-10 a.m. on weekend mornings). You could also potentially do this swap schedule with a neighbor or relative with whom you could share care, though I imagine spouses would be the most common iteration.
In any case, while this schedule isn’t ideal, it is probably the most equitable way to cope with the next few months if another childcare situation isn’t possible. If those 30 work hours are planned well, they can go a long way.
Does your work-from-home schedule look anything like this?
In other news: I am doing a webinar on working from home with the Independent Women’s Forum on Tuesday from 1-2 p.m. eastern. You can register here.