The great juggling act of remote-working parents

The great juggling act of remote-working parents

We ask a remote-working mother of three for her best tips

Written by Alison Robins , Illustrated by Clément Lavedan

June 18, 2020

Reading time : Clock14m

As we all traverse these strange times, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re not just ‘working from home’, we’re trying to get work done from home during a crisis. And, some of us are doing that while parenting. As we invite coworkers into our living rooms and bring babies into our meetings, we need to consider how this topsy turvy colliding of realities affects everyone differently.

A few weeks after becoming a remote organization, our company checked in on how we’re doing with a live survey to fill out at a virtual Town Hall meeting. We were asked to share how we were feeling using 1-2 words. One anonymous respondent wrote something that made us all chuckle as it popped up on the screen, but it was quickly understood that behind the mask of humour was a very real and likely difficult situation.

This person had written: “Sell Kids”.

Being a full-time working parent can be an adventure in and of itself. Put working and parenting (and maybe even teaching) together simultaneously under the same roof and you have some sort of Olympic juggling act. We do see some positive insights in our data from parents who express gratitude toward being able to spend more time with their family. However, the feedback is typically followed by a “but…” wherein we see a long list of concerns.

In this last of our remote work interview series, we talk to Julie Jeannotte, a parent of three youngins and an employee engagement expert here at Officevibe. She’ll share her story, how her family has managed, as well as tips for teams and organizations. Then, we surface the trends from our employee feedback database to shed light on parents’ top concerns, needs, and sentiments. Spoiler alert: robot babysitters are in demand.

In this post:

  1. How we’re supporting: What our company has done to help parents
  2. Interview: Julie’s learnings and tips for remote working parents
  3. Feedback from parents: Top concerns and needs of remote-working parents
  4. If you missed our first two interviews: Interview on remote work with Dan McGinn from HBR and Interview with a psychologist on employee burnout
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How we’re supporting our remote-working parents

Trying to excel as parents and workers with only two hands and one brain can stretch one out pretty thin. With this complicated blending of worlds comes the responsibility of organizations to sharpen the focus on employee wellness and flex those empathy muscles like they’ve never been flexed before. Here’s a glimpse into what our organization has done to help remote-working parents. As we learn from our new circumstances, we will continue to check in and iterate on the ways in which we offer support.

A note from our CEO, Simon De Baene 💥

Image of Simon and his daughter

“A lot of parents ended up being victims of an impossible situation when the government announced the coronavirus lockdown. I felt that we had to do something. As a dad of a young child, I can totally understand how impossible the situation can be. We decided to allow parents to work on a reduced schedule with their full salary. To win as a team during COVID-19 has a lot to do with solidarity, and everything to do with trust.”

The gratitude poured in, but we quickly learned that the opportunity for reduced hours was only part of the solution. Colleagues and managers — teams — are the key to making it work. We need to self-organize around new schedules and processes that help alleviate our colleagues’ stress while ensuring that we still get things done. We need to nurture a safe space where colleagues under pressure feel comfortable to use the reduced hours without guilt. We need flexibility, agility, trust, and support. We need each other, and an abundance of compassionate communication.

What can you do as a leader to support remote-working parents?

Whether you’re a front-line manager or are leading an organization, checking in often and giving employees an anonymous safe space to offer feedback is essential to demonstrate care and get a clear understanding of what employees truly need. Once you get these insights, you can implement solutions that really make a difference.

Internally, we’ve been putting our own Officevibe surveys to use more than ever, and are proud to see how essential it has been in maintaining the wellbeing of our people. Tracking engagement metrics like Wellness (stress and personal health) and Relationships (with managers or between peers) has really helped us surface where things are going well and where things need work.

We’ve even created surveys specific to Remote Work and Mental Health to help managers collect more specific insights during these unique circumstances. You can use the exact same surveys with your team.

💥 Try Officevibe Pulse Surveys and Custom Polls for free and take some time to learn how we support managers and teams working remotely.

Interview with Julie Jeannotte on her experience and best tips

Remote-working mother of three & Employee Engagement Expert and Researcher at Officevibe

Julie Jeanotte

Remote-Working Mother of three &
Employee Engagement Expert and Researcher at Officevibe

Tell us a bit about yourself and your unique situation.

I am a currently-working-from-home-full-time mom of three kiddos; Alex and Ben, 8-year-old twin boys, and my daughter Charlie who is 10. My husband is a devoted paramedic and we live in Montreal.

What has been your greatest challenge working from home with kids?

Finding balance, and managing the emotions that have come from this situation. I recall this one morning where my emotions just got the best of me — the steam came out and I just lost control. I got mad and blurted out all of my thoughts and emotions. As a result, my kids began crying and then cut me off, expressing loudly that they too felt angry about not being able to see their friends, play in the park, being forced to do school work, and so on.

And then it hit me. Their emotions and struggles are real too! Here I am bursting because I feel stressed as a result of juggling the too many roles I have been playing for the past three months: full-time mom, worker, wife to an amazing paramedic, part-time teacher to three kids, daughter, friend, colleague, etc., totally taking for granted my kids’ patience, understanding, calmness and resilience in managing this situation we’re all in.

How did you get through it together?

After letting our emotions come out, we hugged and reminded one another that we’re in this together. Pressure had been building up and up over the weeks for all of us until it all exploded. And that’s ok. We needed to go through this to be stronger as a team, as a family.

It allowed us to reset our relationship and reconsider what we really value most: caring for each other, trusting one another, communicating well and collaborating as the team we are. Because that’s what we are as a family, a team. The most important team of all if you ask me!

I hear the word team a lot when you refer to your family. Does this all translate to your work team as well?

All of this also rings true in the relationships we have with our colleagues. There’s a quote from Esther Perel that I reference often:

“Just as much as relationships enrich our personal lives, it is the quality of our relationships at work that determines the quality of our work, and our success.”

This has taken on a whole new meaning in the current crisis, shedding light on how important relationships are and how necessary it is to intentionally invest time and care in them — both at home and at work.

I would go so far as to say that the teams that will be the most successful remotely are the ones that intentionally work on their team dynamics by putting relationships first. When there’s trust at the base, flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to have real, difficult conversations becomes easier.

What sort of pressure had you been feeling as a remote-working parent?

Pressure to do it all, and do it all well. But what I realized was that the pressure I was putting on myself to be perfect as a mom, worker and teammate, wife, friend, etc. came from no one else but me. You can’t be perfect at everything and can’t ever expect yourself or others to be either. The same goes for the workplace. Employees can’t expect their leaders to be perfect during these times, and employers likewise cannot expect perfection from their teams. We’re human. We have emotions and cope with them in our own way. And when we try to be perfect, we place stress on ourselves and those around us and that doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s the ideal recipe for burnout.

This is why I’ve allowed myself to ask for help when I need it, take breaks when it’s necessary, and be open with my team about my needs. There is no such thing as pleasing everyone right now, and knowing that has helped me make better decisions.

What learnings have you had during the course of working from home?

This confinement has taught me a lot about myself.

As humans, we tend to look “in” and “down”, rather than balance that with looking up and around us. We often have the instinct of thinking about ourselves first — what we think, how we feel, how this situation is impacting us — forgetting to also take a good look around us. Doing so is very important because it really helps put things into perspective.

The notion of empathy-first took a whole new meaning for me during this time. The reality is that we all have our struggles: whether we have kids or not, have a partner or live alone, have parents who feel lonely or grandparents we can’t see and don’t understand why we’re not coming over to visit, have a friend or neighbor whose father has passed during the crisis, still have a job or lost our job…the list is too long to keep going. We all have our emotions and they’re all real. They just take on different shapes and colors.

The same goes for our team members in the workplace. Our situations are all unique and though I may have it tough in some way, a colleague may be experiencing difficulty in another way. We need to be mindful of this. We must remember to be curious about others, and kind.

What do remote-working parents need most from their companies right now?

Human kindness. This translates into care, trust, empathy, respect, understanding, non-judgment, flexibility, curiosity, and collaboration in finding solutions together.

What tips and tricks do you have for parents with kids at home to keep up work-life balance?

We’ve tried so many things! We’ve made schedules with specific activities for the kids timed to while I’d be on a call. I’ve tried working 30-minute blocks and 60-minute blocks. I’ve let them choose what to do, I’ve tried choosing for them. We tested doing school work in the morning, and after work. Different things work at different times depending on the circumstance and mood of the day. There’s no fool-proof solution or one-size-fits-all approach for this.

Ultimately, I feel the best thing for us has been around iterating until we found a routine that works for all of us and committing to that routine as much as possible.

What has really helped is creating a set of guiding principles that contain all of our individual and family non-negotiables — our needs. We try our best to be disciplined with them, out of respect for ourselves and for others (our colleagues, our kids, our partner).

Here are some examples of our family principles:

  1. I stop working at the agreed time (otherwise it is too easy to keep working).
  2. We spend time outside together every day with the kids.
  3. We take time to eat lunch as a family.
  4. We do school work every week day.
  5. We communicate how we feel calmly, without yelling.
  6. We call each other out when one of us does yell or speak in a hurtful way.
  7. We allow ourselves (and encourage each other) to take a break when emotions get too intense.
  8. When my husband is home I book focus time to work while he helps around the house and with the kids.
  9. We share home-related responsibilities like groceries, cooking and cleaning, so we both do our fair share and avoid resentment.
  10. We carve out time for us as a couple.
  11. We make sure everyone has their necessary alone time to disconnect.

These won’t be directly applicable to every family but the idea is to find out what your family needs to function well together as a team and individuals, then create principles around them to refer to daily. It becomes a contract of sorts. Having them written down helps us hold ourselves and one another accountable.

The great juggling act of remote-working parents

Employee feedback: Top concerns of remote-working parents

Data results in this article are from 3000+ users in 350+ companies using Officevibe. The data is anonymized, and for the qualitative analysis, we used our in-house Topic Modeling model to extract the main themes from feedbacks.

Many parents are happy to spend more time with their kids, however, there are a great number of limitations and emotional caveats that come with the intersection of working and parenting.

Recurring themes from remote-working parents in our data:

  1. Prioritization: Parents are feeling “torn between” their kids and their job. We see uncertainty as to which one they should prioritize.
  2. Balance: One word that surfaces often is “juggling”. Parents feel it’s hard to balance their obligations.
  3. Distraction: We see a large amount of feedback around difficulty focusing, finding a quiet space or finding quiet time to get work done.
  4. Guilt: Parents feel guilty on two counts. Not spending enough time with their kids, and not giving enough of their time to their team. It’s a double edged sword.
  5. Inadequacy: Due to needing to split their time, parents report feeling unable to perform their best and fear being seen as not good enough.
  6. Professionalism: Parents worry that having their kids “join” their meetings compromises their professionalism. They wonder how they are perceived by their team and if they are a burden.
  7. Overwhelm: While teams and organizations will differ in how they approach current workloads, some parents feel overwhelmed by having the same workload despite their situation.
  8. Mental health & wellness: Finding time to relax, unwind, and have personal time is proving difficult for parents. Needing to always be “on”, whether for work or children, is taking a toll on their wellness.
  9. Flexibility: Time, deadlines, workload are a few of the areas parents would like to see more flexibility and consideration from their organizations and managers. However we do not see explicit requests from parents for reduced hours. We can hypothesize that it is difficult for people to ask outright for this sort of help
  10. Childcare support: The words “nanny”, “babysitter” and “child care services” appear often and with much emphasis. Due to COVID-19, even family members are prohibited to come help out, so there’s a real sense of urgency on the part of parents. Some even suggest robotic babysitters.

So, we see that there’s a bag of both concrete and emotional difficulties that come with working from home as a parent. There’s a lot of pressure, but as Julie mentions in her interview above, trying to be perfect at everything is not realistic or necessary. Part of this struggle can be alleviated by the emotional support of teams and companies. It’s everyone’s job to look out for one another and ensure that wellbeing in the workplace is prioritized. A simple check-in, a kind word, and demonstration of empathy can go a long way in helping to reduce feelings of guilt or inadequacy. We may be separated, but we need to maintain our human connections and remember to recognize one another for what we have been able to accomplish.

Tell us about your experience as a remote-working parent in the comments below!

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