Back-to-school season brings lots of different emotions for work-at-home parents, even a year removed from the peak of the COVID pandemic. It’s also a time for work-at-home parents to take a step back and get a wide-angle view of their upcoming school year world — one rife with possible mask mandates due to the COVID delta variant. Although challenges exist, getting back-to-school ready is still possible with a bit of determination and organization. This can mean reevaluating and planning ahead to accommodate the family’s changing schedule.
Here are the six ways — both personal and professional — work-at-home parents can take stock of where they are now and what they might need to do to get back-to-school ready, even in a post-COVID world or during a new wave of the virus.
Personal Life Tips for Work-at-Home Parents
1. Look at the Big Picture
The first and best way to get back-to-school ready for most work-at-home parents is to take a step back and look at the big picture, regardless of whether mask mandates or COVID contingencies plans are in place. Think about the years before the pandemic. What went well? What might need some tweaking to return to this form? Traditionally, we learn best from the lessons that history has already taught us, so it can help to review past successes, as well as things that perhaps didn’t work as well as we wanted them to. But with the uncertainty of the delta variant of COVID, a fresh outlook becomes a necessity.
Use Experience from Your Past
Moving from online learning to a mishmash between COVID restrictions and no regulations in the summertime is a shift for the entire family. Add in a new school year with mandatory masks or other issues, and the situation is exponentially more difficult. So you may want to address what seemed like ongoing frustrations in prior years — COVID-related or not . Maybe it was screen time before school, or the kids not helping enough in general. Maybe it was constant reminders of why you have to where a mask or why you don’t. Regardless of the issues, you should consider what you need to do to handle them this year, especially amid new CDC guidelines in the classroom.
But you should also think about the things that went well either in 2020 or before. One of the biggest obstacles may be readjusting to the classroom and abandoning online learning. Whether it was limiting the overscheduling that can happen in a lot of families or making adjustments during COVID, take a look at those things that may contribute to a successful school year, even in the face of unpredictability.
2. Plan Ahead
Once you’ve looked at the big picture, pull out those calendars and plan ahead. Planning ahead is a time-consuming, often overwhelming task. But it can also help you avoid double- or triple-booking yourself for activities or just overscheduling in general. While the delta strain of COVID may affect these schedules, planning ahead is tantamount to success for your children.
Scheduling can help you realize that you don’t have as much time as you thought. You may find only a limited time to get those healthcare appointments booked, school supplies purchased, or vaccinations settled before school starts. And it can also help you get a better feel for what your days and weeks will look like as a family. If there are any conflicts or scheduling changes that need to be made, the more time you have to address those issues, the better.
3. Negotiate Who’s Responsible for Weekly Duties
Just by nature of their telecommuting jobs, work-at-home parents can often have more flexibility in their daily and weekly schedules to manage responsibilities. But not always. Before the school year begins, discuss who is going to handle which duties in the family.
The work-at-home parent can get an earlier start on their workday and handle in-person school matters while their partner is still at the office. Or maybe one parent in the family travels for work, but when they’re home, they have more availability to be able to make school runs in both the morning and afternoon.
Consider not only school-related issues but any extracurricular activities as well. After school can be the busiest time of day for a lot of families, so family-related logistics can become tricky. With weekly duties in place, you’re far less likely to leave junior at soccer practice.
4. Identify Your Village
Remember that saying, “It takes a village”? All parents know that sometimes, you need to ask for help. That’s why you should identify the people in your village. Just like schools ask parents for emergency contact information, work-at-home parents should also create an emergency call-down list in case you get stuck in a bind and need some help. Figuring out who those people are in your village is the first step.
Take some time to think about the people you can rely on in a pinch because you will find a time when two parents have to be in three different places and you need to call in backup. Plan ahead for who you will call in an emergency. Don’t be afraid to make a call, even if you just need help picking up a kid from school when both mom and dad are on conference calls or putting out the latest fire at work. With COVID slowly declining, the amount of running around you have to do may increase. Finding friends is ideal for when you’re in a bind.
You might even have to create a few different call-down lists for yourself. Maybe the list for who could help with school pickup is one set of friends and family, but there could also be parents on the baseball team who might be able to carpool to or from practice if needed. And if you’re comfortable with it, you could even consider asking a teenager you know well, assuming you trust their driving skills.
The important thing is to have your call-down list of the people in your village created ahead of time so that if and when something comes up, you’re not scrambling to find someone.
Professional Life Tips for Work-at-Home Parents
1. Review Your Weekly Work Schedule
As a new school year begins, COVID is less likely to affect the schedule of work-at-home parents, but time has a way of changing that, especially with the new delta variant. Arrangements can change the times you used to begin and end your workday.
Depending on the start times of the schools and whether the kids ride the bus or you drive them, you could be spending twice as much time dropping off and picking up children from school. If you have a partner or a carpool that can share those duties, your schedule might not have to change too much. But what if the other parent travels for work on a regular basis and all of the driving falls to you? Or if a potential carpool falls through due to fears of the delta variant? It’s definitely something to figure out ahead of time so you can determine what your new work schedule will need to look like.
If your new schedule requires breaks in the middle of the day for school pickups, you’ll need to figure out when you will be able to make up that time. Will it mean waking up an hour earlier in the morning to get a bit of work in before waking up kids and taking them to school? Or are you better able to get some work done after the kids go to sleep in the evening? One of those options might work better than the other depending on what time zones the rest of your team are in. It might take a little trial and error to figure out what works best.
2. Communicate Your Schedule Changes
Although the worst of COVID appears in the rearview, the world isn’t out of the water yet. You still might need to make changes due to spikes in the virus as a result of widespread un-masking. If this pertains to the school year, talk to your supervisor. Of course, bringing proposed solutions to any discussions about issues that need to be solved at work is beneficial. But when it comes to work schedules that can affect the rest of your team, you also need to bring an open mind.
Maybe your manager can create a contingency plan regarding meetings or projects. But maybe they can’t. Maybe they simply can’t find another time that would work for that particular meeting. If that’s the case, see how creative you can get with your proposed solutions. If you’ve already tried to find someone in your village to help and no one was available, perhaps your supervisor would be okay with you taking the meeting over the phone while you drive to pick up your kids from school. Communication is key to finding a solution that will work for both you and your manager.
Keep Open Communication in Mind
Open communication with the rest of your team is also important. Once you and your supervisor have agreed on any schedule changes, it’s time to communicate those changes to your virtual team so they know how your availability might change. If you will be taking breaks in the middle of the day, let them know that you can still be reached if you are needed. Communication is crucial to building and maintaining trust on a team — especially virtual teams when people can’t visibly see you in the office. But the more you communicate about the changes you anticipate, the more trust and cohesiveness you will have as an entire team.
A Final Word on the Post-COVID (or Maybe Not) World for Work-From-Home Parents
The back-to-school season after COVID can be a time of big and small changes for families. And when you work from home, those changes can have an equally large or small impact on your professional life. Taking the time to review what’s worked in the past, plan for what changes you think you need for the upcoming school year, and communicate about those changes with everyone on your team will allow you to celebrate the excitement of the new school year while still setting yourself up for professional success.
Do you have any tips to get back-to-school ready for work-at-home parents? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!
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