The coronavirus lockdown hasn’t just sent adults home to get their work done – now that schools have been closed kids are cooped up too.
That can be challenging for parents who now need to balance working from home with caring for children.
That’s a situation we’re exploring in today’s edition of Where I Work, a new mini series taking a look at people’s home office setups as coronavirus makes this style of working the norm.
So far we’ve peeked at the bedroom sanctuary of an intern and photographer, seen how one writer is working on a houseboat, and met a barefoot athlete who has no chairs in his home.
This time we’re hanging out with Lizzie Dummer, 35, a PR manager for an insurance comparison site.
She’s now working from the kitchen of the home in Bishops Stortford she shares with her husband, who owns a building and landscape company, and their two-year-old daughter Elsie.
Hey, Lizzie! How has coronavirus changed your working situation?
I have a job that’s very flexible so it’s not uncommon for me to work from home. – but now I’m only working from home.
Working from home full time has taken some time to get used to especially when it comes to factoring in the needs of a two-year-old who doesn’t understand she has to be quiet during a conference call!
Elsie used to go to a local nursery but she’s now at home with us. We’re lucky that we don’t have the added pressure to ‘teach’ her and stick to a school routine but we’re trying to put some time aside for number and letter games.
What’s your work setup like?
I bought a desk when preparing for the inevitable lockdown from Ikea to have a designated working area.
I used to work from the kitchen table but when you have to keep taking everything off for breakfast/lunch/dinner/craft/puzzle time it breaks into your focus.
My desk overlooks our garden which is lovely especially in this weather and I can keep an eye on Elsie.
I have a second computer screen linked to my laptop which means I don’t have to keep working from a small screen which really strains my eyes. I kitted my desk out with the usual paraphernalia such as pet pot, diary, pad to make it feel a bit more office-like.
Next to my desk is a mini-me desk for Elsie as she wanted to keep getting up on my lap to ‘work’. I set up an old keyboard, pens, paper and crafts to keep her amused. She says she’s at work like mummy and it keeps her entertained!
I’ve stuck up some colourful pre-school learning posters too which Elsie likes and it gives her focus when we run through her numbers and letters.
Talk us through a working day
Elsie wakes up at about 6am so we go straight down for breakfast. I log in and check my emails and get on with my work whilst she’s eating and then I’ll have my breakfast at my desk.
My husband then takes over at about 7am and I go out for a quick run.
I then come home and log back in again by 8am. We have our daily call at 9.30am. I then power through a couple of hours and then stop to prepare lunch and have some time with Elsie.
After lunch, I get back to work. I try to finish at about 4pm but I’m on email until 5pm. This is by no means perfect, and I have regular interruptions from Elsie, but a basic structure has worked for us. This is the new normal so we’re adapting where we can!
Have you found it tough working from home while Elsie’s home too?
It’s been a struggle but now my husband and I are both at home it helps.
I’ve had to adapt my working day to fit around Elsie. I start earlier so I can finish earlier and I try to make time every couple of hours or so to play a quick game or run around the garden with her so she doesn’t feel like I’m ignoring her.
What are your personal rules for working from home? How do you stay focused?
Now my husband is home too it’s a little easier to concentrate on work as we can share Elsie and household chores.
I start my day early and get a head start so that I can take 40 mins out for a quick run before the workday officially begins – it helps me get going.
I have to put my phone out of sight as it’s easy to lose concentration and flick through social media. One thing I’ve always done is set goals such as a cup of tea and a biscuit once I’ve finished a task or worked for a solid hour.
What advice do you have for people new to working from home?
Try to work to a flexible schedule, some days you stick to it and others you don’t but don’t worry.
Factor in breaks for lunch or a walk around the garden if you have one. You need to break your day up so you don’t feel like your chained to your desk.
I have the TV on in the background but as I’m not facing it I don’t pay much attention. For others, this is a big no no but I quite like the chatty noise.
Keep in touch with your colleagues. We have a 9.30am video call every day to run through what needs to be done. Most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to see other faces.
And for other parents working from home: Don’t worry about the toy carnage around you. The more you try to tidy throughout the day the worse it gets. Wait until the end of the day to do a power hour of tidying and sorting the house with a glass of wine!