Earlier this month, my second daughter approached me. She was crying as she recounted how her younger sister bit her arm. Less than a minute later, the younger one came running to me, as well. Since she is not yet able to talk well, I can only guess she was also complaining about her older sister and probably explaining why she bit her older sister. This was happening while I was trying to listen to the meeting I was attending from home.
In the last five months under quarantine, most of us working from home have probably experienced being interrupted by kids asking for help with opening a bottle of peanut butter, mothers asking us if we bought everything on their grocery list, or a delivery person calling for us to get the items we purchased from Shopee.
During the first month of the lockdown, with my kids already on summer vacation and not used to me working from home, there were many times they would bug me to play with them. It was frustrating in some ways, because first, I already explained to them that I needed to work, and second, I could not say yes to them.
Working from home has blurred the line between professional and personal time. This can sometimes cause tension with the people you are living with, and probably with your co-workers, as well. Did you get mad at your siblings who are talking loudly while you were in a call? Did you get annoyed by a baby crying in your colleague’s house?
Last week, I wrote about how the coronavirus pandemic integrated our work life with other aspects of our lives. This is the ultimate work-life integration. With that in mind, the current circumstances of our in-house family members would now have a greater impact on our work environment. When, where and how we work are now directly affected by the people we are living with.
Let me share some suggestions on what can we do if we are working from home with our families.
First, redefine your and your family members’ respective roles at home. Inside households, the roles and responsibilities each one plays should be clear. For example, besides being a parent, I am also an external auditor, which requires me to work for most of the day. I am also a member of a growth group in our local church that holds meetings every week. I am also someone who attends Zoom get-togethers with friends once in a while. By redefining these roles, people living with me would have certain expectations when it comes to my schedule. This also makes it easier for my kids to remember when their dad is available to play or if they first need to ask me if I am in a call before they ask me something.
Second, upskill as necessary. As entities pivot to new business models or new ways of doing things, there is a need to determine if upskilling the current roster of employees is a priority. It can also be true at home. With her and her two younger sisters needing to attend online classes, my eldest daughter had to learn new skills. She had to learn how to set up her sisters’ email, Zoom and school accounts. She also had to learn how to troubleshoot in case they lose their connections during class hours.
Third, implement a hoteling system, since the size and the number of rooms in a house cannot be changed. With this, there might be a need to establish new rules within the home. In my case, with five people needing a particular space and equipment to attend classes and work meetings, we had to agree on who uses what and where each of us can stay. We need to know who would need to use the quietest or most spacious room at certain hours of the day.
Fourth and last, in our respective work organizations, we want to be recipients of respect, patience and understanding. Why can’t we show the same to those we live with as we work from home. I cannot fault my kids every time they interrupt my meetings. I keep reminding myself that no matter how many times I remind them, their frustrations and excitement would push them to run to me, regardless whether I’m in an important video call or not. I hope we extend these virtues to our loved ones at home. Why do we sometimes build walls between us and the people we live with to ensure that we won’t be bothered while we are working? Shouldn’t the people at home be our first source of human comfort during these times?
Now that all my kids are also attending their online classes, I wonder if they would become irritated with me if I interrupt their classes by telling dad jokes.
Anton Ng is a partner of the Audit and Assurance Division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines with 24 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us (@GrantThorntonPH), “like” us on Facebook (P&A Grant Thornton) and email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.grantthornton.com.ph.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 26 August 2020