The 30-hour workweek schedule (with a 50-50 split)

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.

15 thoughts on “The 30-hour workweek schedule (with a 50-50 split)

  1. Why do you continue to assume that working parents have a partner who lives in the same house? This is not true of divorced families. This is not true of single parent families. This is not true for MOST families.

      1. I think the more likely difficulty is when one parent works full time in a role that cannot be done from home. I worked from home part time prior to COVID, full time from home now. However, my husband does not have a work from home option and is gone from 5am to 5pm each day. Without some other coverage, even if he covered childcare during the evenings I would still be looking at working from 2am-6am in the morning and 5pm-9pm at night. While I and a number of my colleagues have actually worked that horrifying schedule, many while basically homeschooling their children during the day, its is unsustainable for any length of time.

        1. This is definitely a huge challenge. I am a doctor working in the hospital and my husband is working from home. When our son’s daycare shut down we had no choice but to hire a full time nanny to take care of him during the workday so my husband could focus. He is a toddler but stopped napping — however, he cannot he left completely unsupervised even during screen time.

          1. @Rachel – this is true – naps only work for so long! It sounds like you made the right decision to hire a nanny given that your husband needs to focus. I have observed, though, that some families in the reverse situation (father is doctor, mom is working from home) have not hired a nanny. Interesting to wonder why…

          2. This is also worth noting. What Laura says here is more in line with what most women Laura included deal with but cannot really say straight on as heterosexual women bc hello we are sleeping with the enemy. When a man works from home he feels entitled to a full-on nanny. When woman works from home this is rarely the case. Why? How can we get excited about the right-to-vote when it seems that these issues are so much deeper than vague representative democracy for women?

  2. As of this moment (could change in the next 5 minutes, ha) my kids will be returning to school/sitter. Alternative plans from the school are pretty vague, but our most dreaded option is that we switch to 100% virtual, but my teacher husband is required to do his part from school. I am currently back at my office, but could work from home if needed. We’ll just have to see how this goes. One thing I’m grateful for is that while working from home hasn’t been accepted across my wider company (we are a manufacturing facility so obviously most of what we do cannot be done remotely!) my department and management is super supportive. I feel that even when we get back to “normal”, it will be acceptable for me to work from home for a sick kid, sitter unavailable or school closing, without taking vacation. I’ve used a significant amount of my vacation over the years to cover childcare, so I’m very excited to be getting those days back!

  3. Thank you! This is very helpful as your recommendations are specific and detailed. Our part of the world (British Columbia) is resuming in person instruction but we are bracing for a second wave lockdown potentially.

  4. These are great suggestions. I am very grateful that my country has resumed in-person schooling because I found school-at-home to be exhausting.

  5. This is more or less exactly what my husband and I did for the months we were homeschooling and home working in the spring, here in the UK. He blocked out the time in his shared work calendar so no one booked meetings when he had the kids, and I let my work colleagues know exactly when I’d be available. It was full on – especially since we were actively home schooling when we weren’t working, and outings/conveniences were limited by the complete lockdown at that time, but it worked. I wrote two books in lockdown, and my husband stayed on top of his own, challenging role in the pharmaceutical business. We were lucky to both be expected to do our jobs from home, though, and his company were brilliantly flexible because so many people were facing the exact same issues.

    1. If this is true, this is worth highlighting. At least women can know it is possible that there are some men who do do this. But some men are disabled from time at war on behalf of the U.S. (so sad since most of us really did not agree to these wars as taxpayers or voters) or as some people have said some folks are not in a two-parent household. But still, thanks for sharing. Most men at least the ones I see did not do this. Did not block out their calendars for equal childcare to give the mother a break. When we speak about the character of a man-or lack thereof in U.S. society- this should also be part of it. Maybe it is easier for the Europeans or something xo …
      The history of slavery in the U.S. still also sits on this.

  6. It would be nice if either Laura or Sarah had firsthand experience dealing with no childcare for months on end while trying not to lose their jobs in a tanking economy before giving cheerful advice about how to do it, as if they are the experts. It’s easy to chart out a schedule and say “this works!” but the reality can be very different – like, what about people’s mental health and physical exhaustion and how do you even entertain children at home day in and day out with so few options to go anywhere and what about the challenges of online education and all the other stress people are facing right now, with pay cuts and job losses a very real threat. I think their blogs would be very different if they didn’t have consistent outside help.

    And I quote: “30 working hours without paid childcare isn’t bad at all — especially since these are all “normal” hours.” YEP REALLY NOT BAD AT ALL. Try it for yourself for at least 12 weeks and get back to us.

  7. This is exactly how my partner and I have handled our 2 and 4 year olds since April when we pulled them from daycare. Some weeks it works better than others, and sometimes the kids cooperate better than others but for the most part, it works for us. I also tend to get a few more hours in myself by skewing my hours early (i get up to exercise, my only sanity keeper right now, around 4:30, and am typically able to get an hour or two of work in before the kids are up. Again, this is if they cooperate 🙂 ) I’m not going to suggest that we’ve not been completely overwhelmed at times, and most weekends, one, two, or all of us end up in tears at points, but I choose to believe that everyone is going through this emotional roller coaster because of all the together time.

    My husband and I have been able to keep relatively consistent work hours, have been able to take care of the kids in way that keeps them sane, and everyone has stayed relatively happy. I’m calling that all a win right now.

    1. @Erin – so glad this set-up has worked for you guys. As you acknowledge, it is not perfect, but few things are these days. This is one approach for muddling through and hopefully allowing both people to keep up with their jobs.

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