Working from home with children – Paul Turner (Research & Engagement Content Manager)

It was halfway through my first Microsoft Teams meeting while working from home that I realised things were not quite going to work in the same way as they had in the office.

Working from home when the children are at school, or nursery, is an entirely different proposition from working at home when they are running amok just a room or two away. Thankfully they are oblivious to the situation in the wider world.

So, when Saskia – whose fifth birthday marked the fourth day of the new routine – wandered in to show me her princess costume and say hello to the people I was speaking to on the computer, it was a sign of things of come.

My workdays have adapted to occasionally (okay, regularly) stepping in to stop the near-two-year-old and the five-year-old from killing each other/destroying the house, and balancing workloads with my partner. This latter point is key: without my partner (whose job as a museum curator is not greatly suited to working from home) I have no idea how I would be able to manage anything approximating work. Any single parents who are trying this truly have my utmost respect and awe. I’m also grateful for an understanding manager who recognises things at home are not as they are in work.

Even with that essential support, it isn’t easy, and I cannot by any means claim to be working as efficiently as I normally do in the office. But this is just something that I’ve had to accept – perfection may not be possible, much as I would like it to be, but doing my best is enough.

The start of my working day is sometimes delayed by 10 or 15 minutes to help Saskia and Euan work through the latest Joe Wicks Body Coach PE sessions – as much of a workout for me as it is for them – and my lunch breaks are occasionally split 50/50 between eating and taking one of the children out for a ride on the bike, doubling up as my one trip out for exercise for the day.

There are days when my partner works and I cannot, and others when it seems every 10 minutes I’m mediating a dispute or finding a toy that has mysteriously disappeared. I think of these as the equivalent of screen breaks in the office, allowing me to get away from the computer for a short while.

Our house is not so large that I am able to vacate to the East Wing and leave the children in the West, nor big enough that we even have a room that can easily be converted into an office. As such, being upstairs either in our bedroom or the toddler’s room means I am somewhere the children are used to being able to access.

I need to be flexible and understanding. Children – especially a toddler – don’t necessarily understand that I am working. They want to play with me, to see me, talk to me and ask me what’s going on. They understand they should not be in and out constantly, but there is no reason not to take some time here and there to make sure they know you’re thinking about them and want to spend time with them.

I’ve made sure to head downstairs at least once an hour to check that everything is okay, to see what they are doing, to get involved with learning, making lunch, and to hand out cuddles on a liberal basis.

There are also times when I need to look after them so my partner can take a break herself. It’s better to do that than to emerge at the end of the day to find frayed nerves, unhappy faces and tension all around.

The Microsoft Teams meetings provide a welcome opportunity for face-to-face interaction with colleagues. Don’t let the tech side put you off, these meetings – even when interrupted for pirate treasure hunters or princess parties – more often than not bring a smile to the face.

I want to enjoy the experience. How often in your life will you have the opportunity to spend so much time at home with your children? Sure, they might drive me insane on occasion, and I may find it hard to settle into a working rhythm, but I get to see my family much more than usual.

It’s not easy, and I’m having to learn and adapt quickly. It may not be the same as it is at work, and my new colleagues may be a good few feet smaller but it can be done.