Are your little ones constantly barging in on your Zoom meetings? Or is ah boy whining for a snack for the 8th time today, while you’re trying to write up a report?

That’s the reality for many parents who are now working from home in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the circuit breaker period.

While there are those who appreciate the increased amounts of face time with family, working from home does come with its challenges.

Work at work

Dr Daniel Fung, Chairman of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) Medical Board, explains that the basis of “work at work” is the interaction that occurs at the workplace. “The ability to meet face to face and speak both openly and privately is an important part of many work processes. Working relationships help to facilitate the work that needs to be done,” he says.

This infrastructure at work cannot be easily duplicated in the home – “there may be space constraints, lack of appropriate equipment and security that exists in the workplace”, Dr Fung adds.

For those with kids in the household, there’s the issue of having to work while the little ones may be interrupting and interfering with normal work tasks.

When children are in school, parents have handed off the supervisory task to the teachers who are surrogate parents in school. Now this additional task can be a burden that distracts the parents from their work. 
Dr Daniel Fung

Dr Fung shares some tips:

  • Use the opportunity to strengthen relationships at home
    Take time to relate and share with loved ones, whether its grandparents, spouses or children. It is a blessing to be with your family during this time.

  • Create rules and routines
    This would allow for work to be done where needed. A daily routine in which there is family time and allowing time and space to be alone or separate is critical. Too much enforced interaction can be detrimental resulting in friction and irritability.  Make time for being together and also for time apart even while everyone is home.

    Don’t forget family time for activities like games, watching television and even exercise within the home.

  • Divide the roles that each member will play
    Separate the tasks and share the household chores. This will help you strengthen relationships with one another.

  • Look on the bright side
    The convenience of being at home and the fact that parents do not have to wake up really early and contend with traffic and other transportation woes is a benefit.

    It also allows them to dress down, take short breaks and work within the comforts of home, which can be less stressful.  

    The fact that the children may be home with them will also assuage any worries they may have of being separated from their loved ones.

 

Can employers play a role in giving parents more flexibility?

Employers can help by creating a new working process and not just replicate what normally happens at work.

In work places where work is task-based, this may be easier. But for some types of work, particularly in the service industry, this may be harder. Such employers would probably need to allow flexible turn-taking for doing some tasks that requires total involvement, versus the start-and-stop type of work that WFH would entail.

For example, if the worker needs to stay on the phone the whole day in video meetings, this may be difficult to do without allowing them some time to take care of the family issues like addressing their young children’s needs.

Such duties would need to be shared with co-workers, allowing parents some downtime in between.

Employers can play a role in supporting the mental health needs of their workers.

Here are some useful steps and resources which employers can adopt to support employees who have either been temporarily suspended or are working from home.

Tan Yi Lin, a working mom to three girls, 4, 7 and 8, shares her WFH experience.



“I’m used to working from home once a week, but the environment is different with the children at home instead of at school. It has been hard to concentrate on work and to tend to the kids when I constantly have chores weighing on my mind or am thinking ahead of what to feed the family for lunch and dinner. We would usually visit our parents a few times a week to eat together and would usually have part-time help with the household chores, so things are different now.

There are moments when I struggle not to lose my patience and talk to them in a manner that I might regret. I have learnt to reduce the mental load by looking to food delivery or takeaway to settle some of our meals, and to trust the children to complete their school assignments and to do their chores on their own – even if their standards are not perfect.

Despite our day feeling very full – more so than ever, the number of joyful moments thankfully outnumber my short-tempered ones. I have more time to bond with my children when we do household chores and prepare meals, exercise and read together. They particularly enjoy following the guided home experiment videos by Science Centre Singapore, and I love watching their reactions and sharing their joy in exploration and discovery.



It has also been humbling to watch them try so hard to learn ‘adult’ tasks like logging into systems, using Word and Excel and Google sheets, uploading files, sending emails and attending virtual meetings.

Once, I came home from a grocery run to find the children loading the laundry into the washing machine and setting it on a wash cycle. I was touched that they decided to use their free time to help me with my chores.

Another instance, I saw them improvise with unwanted cardboard packaging for craft materials and create new play activities out of boxes. Staying at home has taught them how to be resourceful and to be content with what we have.

 

For more advice, check out Families for Life’s #AskFFL series featuring experts who provide advice, tips and information to support families.

Topics include parenting, caring for your newborn, managing home-based learning, maintaining relationships with family members and mental wellness. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/familiesforlife.sg. 



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