Working from Home: Adapting and managing school and work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

This is a guest blog post from Greater Mankato Growth member, Mayo Clinic Health System.

As the impact of COVID-19 increased in the United States, and Minnesota and Mankato began to brace for the impact in our area, a number of changes began in the lives of members of our community – at a relatively quick pace. Many people are working from home. However, many are working to juggle the demands of work productivity while also trying to help children complete virtual schoolwork and find meaningful activities during a time of social distancing. This can be a stressful juggling act. Here are some thoughts and suggestions about strategies for managing work from home, while also trying to provide support for children and schoolwork, deal with a lack of personal space, or support of other family members as we all navigate these difficult times.

Strategies when working from home

Working from home can be satisfying and positive, but can also be difficult and stressful. Practical issues such as feeling disconnected from colleagues or co-workers (or just plain lonely), issues with technology, and distractions or competing priorities can complicate the process. To get the most from this arrangement, we would recommend working to maintain habit patterns that made work successful before. Try to get up at the same time and organize your day similar to when going into the office. Dress as if you were going to work. If possible, try to arrange an office space that prevents distractions and allows you to carry out your work. Above all, practice appropriate self-care. Take breaks, get up from your workspace to walk, take time to sit back and breathe, and use stress management strategies. Check out these suggested stress-reducing strategies from Mayo Clinic.

Juggling work with your child’s needs

For many, trying to work from home is complicated by issues in the family. Here are some strategies for maintaining your productivity while working to support children or family members. Creating a predictable, consistent routine is just as important for kids as it is for adults and promotes independence. An easy way to do this is through the use of a visual schedule. Schedules will vary based on the child’s age and development, yet can include regular wake and bedtimes, meals, learning time, physical activity, sibling or parent interaction, specific chores, and free choice time.

Involve your child

Providing some choices or allowing your child to select the order of certain activities can provide them with a sense of control. The schedule can also assist in reducing conflict around screen time. Adding screen time to the schedule provides your child with the answer to “when” and “how long.” In addition, screen time can act as a motivator to complete tasks scheduled before it. Throughout this process, use of a timer to provide your child with a clear beginning and end to tasks will assist with transitions.

Scheduling an enjoyable activity such as lunch or outdoor playtime after screen time can make the difficult task of turning off the tablet a bit easier. Get in the habit of reviewing the schedule as a family at the beginning of each day. Many families choose to use a marker board, Velcro or magnetic icons so the schedule can be modified as needed. If you are finding that your child is not completing activities on the schedule as independently as you would expect, consider whether the deficit is skill (e.g., difficulty of some tasks is too high, child has challenges following the schedule) or motivation based. To address these issues, strengthen skills by providing support and phasing it out over time, reduce task difficulty when needed, and include a reward for completing the schedule to reinforce cooperation.

Share the responsibility

If you are able, we also recommend sharing and delegating responsibilities at work and home. For instance, if there are two caregivers at home, decide how you can most effectively share childcare duties. Could a green or red sign on the door of your work spaces identify which caretaker is available to help address issues when they arise? As some statewide restrictions are lifted, would it be possible to schedule regular playdates with a trusted neighbor family to relieve some of the burden? Now is a time when we must get creative. Now more than ever, clear communication and planning with family members and trusted friends in the community is essential — we are all in this together.

Make this time count

Finally, make the time you have count. All kids, regardless of age, require attention from parents. Take a 10-minute break each day and provide high quality, uninterrupted attention in the form of helping with an activity or engaging in child-directed play. Child-directed play consists of following your child’s lead, reflecting their appropriate statements, providing praise, imitating their actions, and describing what you see them doing. Avoid directing, criticizing, and asking lots of questions. Above all, do your best to enjoy your time at home. This will be easier if you can reduce overall stress by keeping everyone on a regular routine, taking care of yourself, promoting your child’s independence, sharing responsibilities, and feeling good about the quality time you are able to make for family members.

Adam Anderson, Ph.D., and Allison Lundahl, Ph.D., are clinical psychologists and part of Mayo Clinic Health System’s behavioral health team in Mankato.

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