Work and kids suddenly all home? Be flexible and patient, experts say

Many employees are working remotely during the coronavirus outbreak.
Minnesota companies are being urged to let employees work from home if possible during the novel coronavirus outbreak. Experts say working remotely takes planning and some ingenuity, particularly if there are children at home.
Chris Graves | MPR News

With businesses and schools closing their buildings to stop the spread of the coronavirus, many Minnesotans are quickly learning the realities of working from home. Doing this successfully involves planning, flexibility and some ingenuity, particularly if there are children at home.

State officials on Sunday urged companies to let employees work from home if possible during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

There’s no doubt, though, that many workers getting that message are struggling now with basic questions, said Mike Porter, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business.

"Do I have access to the rest of my organizations systems? How do I get to special software? How do I get to databases? Those kinds of things,” he said.

How about: Can your home internet connection can handle the possibly heavier load of your office systems? And what about the meetings?

Porter pointed to the systems that businesses use now for remote meetings, such as Zoom, Slack and Skype. He said those services will be in much greater demand and it will be interesting to see how well they respond.

He’s consulted with several Twin Cities corporations that employ people who work from home. He reports widely varying experiences. He said managers must set clear productivity expectations.

Working alone at home is very different socially from having colleagues around with whom to consult or just chat, he added.

Those with young children in the house may find remote work even more challenging and should start planning ahead.

"Take a breath and begin to think of this situation in terms of developing a plan for how you and your family can get through this as successfully as possible,” said Sharon Powell, a University of Minnesota associate professor who researches and advises on family life issues.

It's good to talk to the children about a routine to set boundaries as to what is work time, and what is time for children, “but also conversations should happen between the adults in the home to talk about new responsibilities and how you want to share those responsibilities successfully," she said.

Flexibility is important, she added. Some adults may have to adjust their schedule during the day as they switch between job work and parenting work.

"You might do things after the kids go to bed at night," she said. "You might wake up before they are awake and try to get some work in. Probably parents already do these things even when they are not technically working from home."

Children should feel they are helping and contributing to the family situation, she added. “It’s also important on a pretty much regular basis to let them know, 'Thank you so much! That was so helpful.’”

Exercise for kids and adults may be especially important if everyone ends up at home.

Samantha Sweeney and her husband Noel run a Twin Cities personal training business. They’re planning to post exercises on Instagram that don’t require equipment for people wanting to work out at home while they work from home.

"For those of you who just feel more comfortable not going into the gym,” she wrote, “these workouts are for you.”

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