The world today is not what it was yesterday. This is always the case, but now more so than ever with the coronavirus pandemic. The global economy is headed for a major recession. Jobs have been lost. Thousands of parents are now thrust into the not-so-familiar world of working from home. And while this alone takes a lot of getting used to, many also have to handle the task of caring for their children who no longer have school. This is a massive transition.
Despite the enormity of the task ahead, work has never been more important. Bottom lines are going to get slashed. More people will lose their job. This is a scary truth but a truth nonetheless. Working from home while caring for kids is like walking a tightrope while juggling knives that are made of smaller knives that are also on fire. But parents who are working remotely or working from home need to abide by one rule: over-communicate with your employer. Now is not the time to make assumptions. Figure out the plan that works for you and explain it to your employer, while also providing a lot of assurance to your employer that you will accomplish your goals.
“You have to make it clear that your schedule won’t be what it was while also saying that, despite the circumstances, you will be as diligent as possible in terms of completing your tasks,” says Jennifer Fraone of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family. “It’s about over-communicating”
What, exactly, does over-communicating with an employer look like? Fatherly spoke to Fraone about what proper communication looks like when working from home, why you should explain your flexible work plan as though it were a business proposal, and why flexibility works both ways.
For parents who are now dealing with the reality of working from home with children in the house, what’s the first thing they need to do?
The first step especially is if you’re fortunate to be in a dual-career couple or have a partner in the home is sitting down with your partner and really talking about how the two of you together can make this work. Look at the schedule every night and see what are the most pressing priorities and how can you support each other through this. Figure out a plan. Consider: Will you be working in shifts? Will one of you decide to start very early in the morning, take a break, and then resume in the afternoon after taking care of the children? Once you figure this out, it has to be an ongoing discussion and meeting every night.
Obviously, flexibility will be needed along the way. They might have a really important deadline or really important meeting. They have to clearly state that they can’t be interrupted at this time during the day, and that they can’t be the one who’s primarily overseeing the kids at that time ,and vice versa. Only then can you clearly communicate with your company about new situations.
Okay. Once someone has a semblance of a plan in place, what is the best way to communicate with their manager?
First and foremost, you want to be over-communicating. Especially around projects and deadlines coming up. Be as specific as possible. And you want to give reassurances that you’ll work as much or whatever hours are needed in order to prepare for that. But that you will also require some flexibility giving the circumstance. Everybody has to understand that we’re in this quandary here where kids and parents are all going to be in the same small space. Understanding this is necessary.
But parents should try their best to let their manager know what their plans are, how on target they are for meeting those deadlines, that they’re very dedicated to doing their job, however, they may need some adjustments in scheduling.
How should someone phrase this to their manager?
I always advise people when they’re asking for more flexibility, be it working from home or changing their schedule, to phrase it like a business proposal. Be very professional and explain: this is how I’m going to make it work, this is my plan for the schedule, this is what I will get accomplished during these times, and this is why you don’t have to worry about me meeting X, Y, and Z deadlines. In certain circumstances, I might even suggest outlining the major project you’re working on.
It’s also good to clearly communicate any situational changes you need to put in place. So, if you know if you’re going to be splitting the day with your partner and you’re going to only be working at X times and not Y, you have to make that clear while also saying that, despite the circumstances, you will be as diligent as possible in terms of completing your tasks.
Most importantly, you need to say that you understand that the company is looking to you to accomplish these goals and you are committed to doing that. All you need is just a bit more flexibility in this time due to your need to accommodate your children who are also going to be home.
This also requires regular check ins with a supervisor. What’s your rule of thumb in terms of keeping them up to date without inundating them?
All managers are different. But I would say to check in at least twice daily. In the morning, provide them a detailed list of what your plans are for the day; at the end of the day, provide them a list of what you’ve accomplished. This way they know everything you’ve been doing and how on track you are despite the circumstances.
What’s one thing people should keep in mind?
Flexibility works both ways. If there’s a meeting or something else important that comes up that’s not during that time, explain that you’ll work it out to make sure you’re available. When everyone is working remotely, it’s challenging to find times for everyone to get together. So, stay flexible with them as they’re being flexible with you, while reaffirming your dedication to getting the job done and reassuring any fears that they might have that you might not be as productive.
Also, I think sometimes people frame emails to supervisors about scheduling changes as a crisis. There’s a lot of anxiety there naturally. People need to avoid that tendency and frame it in a calm, proactive manner. It’s always better to start from a place of calm.
Should people take the same tact when asking for sick days or time off for personal matters?
Follow your company’s existing systems of approval, stating clearly what you need to take off and why. It depends a lot on what the company structure is. But, if you know that you or one of your children or your partner is ill, let your manager know that. You’re not going to be able to work at full capacity so you may be able to take some days to take care of your family.
And again, be as explicit as possible. Try to make a plan about what you’re doing to ensure that projects you’re working on are going to be covered in your absence. That’s always the best approach.
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