What COVID-19 quarantine means for dual career families working from home: 5 ways you can protect yo

At a glance:

  1. Family Routine – This gives kids stability in a time of uncertainty.

  2. Work Schedules – You both cannot work at the same time for the whole day.

  3. Reigns of responsibility – Who is doing what and when?

  4. Meal plan – Your evenings will be smoother and minimise a need to go to the store.

  5. Mental health – All under the one roof for unknown chunks of time, how will you look after you?

Family routine

A predictable routine gives kids a sense of certainty and security, especially during a time when their regular lives have been disrupted. It can help minimise frustration and boredom and assist parents to create a new normal within the uncertainties of COVID-19.

Decide as parents what their routine will look like. The most important time can be the morning – keep your pre COVID-19 routine happening, e.g. breakfast, dressed, teeth. This can set the tone for the whole day.

Decide when and how the essentials will happen:

  • Do you need a schedule for covering academic requirements for school?

  • How will you burn some of their endless energy?

If your kids are old enough chat with them about the rules for the week. What happens if Mum or Dad are on a work call and they need help? What jobs do they need to get done before they can play with their toys?

Work Schedules

For period of time to be as harmonious as possible you need to both clear and flexible on your work requirements. Work-life integration is already a challenge, and now will be no different. Sort out your preferred schedules and then overlay this with the family routine. What compromises will need to be made? Which Zoom meetings will be ok with kids sitting on your lap? Exactly what time is best to utelise Disney+?

Core areas to be clear on:

  1. What parts of the 24-hour work day will work best for your employer and your working style? More importantly what times will not work? Be sure to contact your employer ahead of the week and explain the challenges your household will face.

  2. Ask, don’t assume, to know what your partner needs/wants for the week ahead.

  3. Layer your schedules and see how it will work with your family routine.

Reigns of responsibility

In other words, who is doing what and when? Between kids and chores there is a lot of air time for resentment to fill. Who is going to be present with the kids and when?

Core areas to be super clear who owns:

  • Each meal time, including snacks

  • Bath time and bedtime routines

  • Household chores. Unless you want to do these yourself get a list of who owns what. Note there are specific chores for the kids to help with.

  • Physical exercise

  • General tidying and resetting of the house/play areas.

  • Homeschool requirements

  • Play and other development needs of under 5s.

  • Other developmental needs for those who have children under the care of a specialist.

There will be pockets of time when you both can work, for example when the kids are playing happily, nap time, or when your kids are using screens. You still need to be clear on who is ultimately responsible during these periods. Who will deal with arguments? Technology issues? The relentlessness of needing snacks?

Meal Plan

For the love of god meal plan. A UK study of 2000 men and women found the top 20 disagreements that couples have on a daily basis includes what to eat and what time dinner should happen. In the list of battles that you will have this week, get this one off the board.

In my household meal planning was born out of time management needs. However there are other benefits such as making healthier choices, saving money and reducing waste. While we use a bit of paper and a pen, there are Microsoft Templates or fancier options from Amazon or Kmart.

Mental health

Working from home as a family will only work if you have time to recharge. You both have an individual bandwidth of what you can both cope with, so be clear on what that is. The discussion on what you individually need may lead to an argument, but it is better to have that now, than mid-week when you are both feeling overwhelmed or resentful. Once you have agreed on how you will both fit it in add this to the family calendar. In our house if it isn’t in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.

Recharging might look like:

  • Parent #1 has a run/walk/yoga at 6am, while parent #2 is in charge of breakfast.

  • Parent #2 has a run/walk/yoga at 5pm while parent #1 is in charge of dinner.

Remember that working from home is not for everyone. Remote workers experience unique challenges without the added stress and reality of the COVID-19 virus.

Some other quick tips that work for our household, with four kids aged 6, 8, 10 and 12:

  1. Make lunch boxes as if the kids were still at school. It is a timesaver and removes at least half of the ‘What can I have to eat?’ questions – half the time the kids are just bored.

  2. No one is allowed to play until they have done the obligatory morning chores – breakfast, teeth, dressed and made their bed.

  3. Be strategic with screen time. Avoid any ‘free time’ on screens/tvs before midday at all costs, and use the screens to your advantage e.g. when you both have a meeting/deep work that needs attention. Note: If kids need screens for school work that is different.

  4. Get in some physical activity. This is a win: win. If you make this quality time, you get your own quality time back. E.g. We seek out empty parks straight after breakfast, then the kids are happy to play on their own when we return.

  5. Pick at least one quality thing to do with each of your kids during the week. This might be a special craft activity, going for a bike ride or walk together.

  6. Keep aside exciting things for those hours/days when it just does not work:

Don’t be too hard on yourself if this week doesn’t go to plan. This is all about compromise with employers and families, and making the best of a challenging situation.

Where to next?

Rapid Context can help you understand and make targeted changes to your organisations flexibility. We use high quality defensible research to meet urgent needs without compromising rigor. We assist organisations in solving sensitive and complex problems related to policy change or development, reform, culture change, or targeted issues such as leadership. Our experienced team of specialists analyse issues using different lenses and vantage points – not off the shelf models - to provide a more complete appreciation of the problem and develop solutions that are tailored to your specific context. Please send enquiries to enquiries@rapidcontext.com.au

Sara Edwards is the Manager Director of People and Culture at Rapid Context. She specialises in flexible workforces, organisational culture, and education and training. She works with clients across industries to develop successful flexible workforces, analyse and report on organisational culture and assist with team development.


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