Juggling in a pandemic

12 May 2020 by Isla Lightfoot

Corndel has always had a culture of remote and flexible working. This is highly valued by all of our staff, particularly those who are working parents. It allows us to attract the highest levels of talent and has meant we could adapt quickly to help our learners and employers during this pandemic. 

However, even our colleagues, who are used to working remotely, don’t usually juggle their working day with home-schooling, preparing lunches for the family, partners working from home etc. We asked a number of our team how they were finding ‘juggling in a pandemic’ and there were a number of consistent themes, including days that merged into one, benefits of spending quality time with family, working together to prioritise the load, and finding your own routine – rather than one that is prescribed.  

Three families juggling their work and homelife 

Chris Perry, Digital Account Director, shared how he and his wife have an AM or PM slot, with a 1pm handover. ‘Working in shifts works well for us because we have clearly defined working times and we can manage our diaries and expectations accordingly. We can schedule calls within core business hours, and we have time either before or after to fulfil our other work tasks. Losing commuting time is very helpful because it gives time back to work and to play.’ Chris makes sure he has an ‘Out of Office ‘message on his emails, explaining that he is working flexibly, adding, ‘this definitely helped to take the pressure off and manage people’s expectations.’ And he recommends an up-to-date calendar, showing your availability.  

Pam Spread, Professional Development Expert, has a similar working routine. Both her and her husband Rob are juggling workloads and looking after their daughter. ‘I tend to do the morning shift, starting work at 7am until 1pm and then pick up the remainder when our daughter has gone to bed. My husband works from 1pm until around 11pm. I won’t lie, it’s exhausting, and it feels like there is no respite some days, which is why we’ve found it is very important to allocate periods for daily exercise and fresh air.’ 

Ciaran Brennan, Director of Business Development, and his wife Laura, Deputy Director of the Leadership Academy, both work for Corndel and are juggling their roles with looking after three small children. ‘We discuss what the most urgent outputs are for the company each day and prioritise our time, office space and childcare on that basis. If one of us has an external call, the other keeps an eye on the kids, whilst working.’ 

Reworking of priorities, maintaining structure, and getting creative 

 ‘It’s a series of trade offs’ explains Pam ‘I always try to ask myself ‘what are the most important things we should be doing today? This involves relaxing the rules around things like if my daughter watches an extra hour of TV because we have calls. If you have ebbs and flows in the working day or over a series of days, then it’s permissible to finish early one day and work late on another. The rules of being seen to sit at a desk from 9 to 5, are being rewritten and this is a good thing.’ 

Structure, of some kind, helps. This doesn’t have to be rigid and it is different for every family. ‘We’ve made sure that our days off are actually days off’, said Pam. ‘We do different things on these days. We have also taken planned holiday, even if its been a ‘stay at home’ holiday. You need time to rejuvenate. We have also tried to ensure something is always in the diary that we can look forward to. Whether it’s an adaptation of ‘Fish and Chips on the seafront’ – which involved homemade fish and chips served with a bucket and spade, or a well-being weekend that involved a walk round our local woods, followed by yoga and lots of fresh food.’  

Ciaran planned a ‘Camp out’ in the garden for his kids, which involved borrowing the neighbour’s tent, projecting a film, building a campfire, and eating Smores. ‘We’ve been a bit creative and adapted special treats to make it feel like ‘holiday time’ for the kids. Themed dinners and dinners that we would usually have on holiday – BBQs, Italian Nights etc. Lots of garden time.’ 

The silver lining 

A definite benefit to finding ourselves in similar situations, whatever company we work for and role that we play, is the more human conversations people are having. ‘Barriers have definitely broken down for the better in this period. There is an improved understanding of the challenges people are facing outside of work and how important it is for everyone to support each other’s well-being.’ explains Chris‘Niceness levels overall, whether it’s a work, home, remotely with family, have definitely increased.’ 

Pam concurs: ‘My husband and I have definitely become more tolerant of each other. I think we’ve both reset our expectations of ourselves and what ‘good’ looks like for us.’ 

Homeschooling seems to be both a blessing and a curse for most families and can depend on the age of the children. ‘We aren’t viewing it as homeschooling because it will become a flashpoint for stress’ explains Ciaran. ‘The kids are at home and we are working. The surprising thing that I’ve witnessed is that the kids are still learning. My three-year-old twin girls have started to write their names with no real prompts from us. My son had a task to practice his handwriting and the only way I could convince him to do this was to write a slightly rude poem, so that’s what he did! I think this period has been a fruition of all the work that has been done at school over the past year. Kids are really resilient, and the most important thing has been daily exercise.’  

The forced use of video technology to retain face-to-face interactions has overall improved the remote working model. ‘People who opted for telephone calls in the past, are no longer reticent to try new video technology. It has quickly become established as the normal way of working which has definitely encouraging us all to be a bit braver with the technology that we use to interact with each other’, observed Chris. The converse side to this was the initial rush for people to put calendar invites into the diary to compensate for face-to-face meetings. ‘I think there was an initial worry about presenteeism, from office-based clients and colleagues.’ explained Ciaran. ‘The basic principle of meetings – that there must be an agenda and a time limit, unless it’s a social get together, should be retained, but this is definitely improving over time.’ 

Corndel’s CEO, Sean Williams, explains: ‘We want to deliver brilliant training. We want to do that in a way that delights our learners, our customers and our own people. To do that we must take advantage of all of the technological tools that a 21st century company has at its disposal. Covid-19 has created a platform for change in the world of work and society more generally. Flexible, people-centred organisations, where everyone, regardless of their home circumstances, can succeed are the ones that will survive this crisis. 80% of our colleagues at Corndel are working parents. We are very conscious of their additional needs at this time. Our philosophy is to be as flexible as possible, and to do everything that we can to support our working parents to care for their children and families. We work with dedicated, progressive employers and learners who are facing similar demands and challenges and we are very conscious of the need to lead by example in this area.' 

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