Working… with kids.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

This is the quote that was probably followed by “easier said than done” quite often during this current crisis and the entailing quarantine, especially by parents who suddenly would need to find ways to work from home with their children keeping them company.

I’m not going to lie: there is no easy way to work with kids from home. Regardless of their age, children need attention, they need to be home-schooled and if you’re looking to tips and tricks on how to properly handle this situation, you’re not going to find it in this article… After reading basically everything the internet had to offer (confession: my wife did most of the reading) I hardly believe I have anything new to contribute. Furthermore, we have come to conclude that, while tips are cool, their age notwithstanding, kids are very different from one another, so you’re going to be trying and failing until you find an activity that works.

I am here to talk about you, me, my wife… The parents.

The reality that we face is that, taking into consideration that most of us work a 40-hour week (variations may apply if you’re outside Germany) and that the daily churn goes from 9AM to 6PM, someone needs to compromise to take care of Junior’s necessities. So, where’s the lemonade now?

Let’s start with the other stakeholder in our conversation: our employers. In the neverending discussion about whether the egg or the hen came first, the same can be applied to shifting a company’s trust-logic from requiring presence at a given daily time-frame to setting goals and deadlines that need to be met within the employee’s scrutiny. As the Borg (not tennis Borg… Star Trek Borg) would say: “resistance is futile”. Outside of calling every half an hour to check-in, employers are now disempowered when it comes to controlling presence, hence giving the employee a spontaneous chance to prove that this kind of control is not only unnecessary, it is ultimately counterproductive!

And here’s the first sip of that promised lemonade: make a case of it! Review yours and your partner’s schedule for the week to avoid missing client appointments and set yourselves goals and deadlines that you communicate with your superiors… AND deliver on those promises, whatever the cost. You can now work during their lunch nap, you can work at night, you can do some exercise whenever you want to get that endorphin-induced productivity-boost and become a better employee than when your check-in and check-out times were under heavy control. Even if it takes the extra effort, prove that this works and don’t forget to brag about the fact that your boss is the victor of the situation, getting better results from a more productive colleague.

Clients might not be as understanding… Or so I thought. You see, while we find ourselves in isolation and in tough professional situations, I at least seem to often forget that everybody is going through the same thing. Ironically, in isolating, we find ourselves in this mess a little more together than before. Just last week my wife scheduled a conference call and I unexpectedly needed to stand in for a sick colleague (thankfully, not a case of COVID-19) at the exact same time. Since I was a passive participant of the conference call, I put on my headphones, set my phone to mute whenever my advice wasn’t needed and took part in it while caring for my toddler. It only took five minutes for Junior to yell something insanely funny while I was presenting myself. What ensued (after a brief moment of unconventional awkwardness on my part) was one of the most pleasant interactions I remember having with a client, a man with two children who was going through the exact same thing, relieved to know that he had the freedom to do reciprocate if push came to shove. I think the proper German quote for this is that “everybody cooks with tap-water”.

Be open about it… There is comfort in knowing that, for a greater majority, we are not going through it alone, but participating in a common social challenge where understanding can and needs to be reciprocal.

As I am writing this article sitting outside looking at my garden, having found the best setup for me personally finding focus while Munich’s early spring weather allows it, I keep going back to that lemonade, which reminds me of the one advice I will echo from the rest of the internet, like a broken record: remember to find joy in your home-office with kids days by focusing on the positive. While it comes with plenty of challenges, it provides unprecedented opportunities. I confess to being one of the least compatible people with home-office I know, but I invested additional energy in proving that I can increase my productivity during this time so that I can enjoy the perks that come with it. Added to the obvious fact that I don’t remember spending this much time with my child since returning from parental leave, I resumed writing my novel that had been on hold for three years, ran more kilometers than the entire months of January and February combined to prepare for this year’s Berlin marathon (this is still allowed/advised in Germany if you keep to groups no greater than two people and keep a safe distance from others) and even filed my tax returns earlier than needed. In a nutshell, never has my scale for work-life balance been so, well, balanced.

This crisis has spontaneously forced upon us many changes, bad and good, that were expected to be progressive and slow. While we can wallow on the fact that we are fighting a battle we didn’t deserve, we can also pull through by knowing that, if the need to stay home comes again, even for a couple of days, you’ve done it before and have the skills and the knowledge to make the best of it.

PS: on a side-note, I’m sorry but I lied. The solutions division of Austrians Raiffeisen Bank has posted an amazing guide on homeschooling your children using agile methodologies that, not only can help your children in getting their homework done by self-disciplining but also gives a valid introduction to SCRUM methods to the uninitiated: Agile Homeschooling by Raiffeisen Solution

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