During the coronavirus lockdown, more than one million Italians have turned to smart working for all kinds of companies across all business sectors. For those able to do it, working from home has many advantages, whether economic – the costs to both companies and employees are lower – or in terms of well-being, improved quality of life and better health. However, when this has been forced upon you and you are ill-prepared, organizing your agile working routine can be a mammoth task.
How can you seamlessly combine different routines and lives, the office, school, gym and playground in a single space? How can you create a new routine that works for the whole family during this lockdown?
Here we give you some tips on how to organise these rather unusual days to give you peace of mind and allow you to be productive.
The keyword is: organisation
Research carried out by the Valore D Association on a sample of 1,300 workers (more than 93% of whom were smart working) has shown that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men admit that they struggle to reconcile work and family life. This finding goes hand in hand with the result of a survey commissioned by Yoopies (an international online platform specialising in home care professionals): 75% of parents interviewed said they found it difficult to complete work projects while having to also manage housework and childcare.
Riccarda Zazza, CEO of Life Based Value, a company specialized in soft skills-based training programmes for businesses according to the life-based learning method, may have the answer to put an end to the chaos and sense of frustration. She has always been interested in the complex topic of work-life balance, believing that it is achievable by organising family life as if it were a business.
The first step is to talk things through. Sit around a table, children included, and brainstorm, share ideas, needs and goals as well as solutions and work tools.
Time appears to be suspended and running on parallel tracks – the call with your boss conflicts with the teacher’s video lesson, delivering a report gets in the way of the mid-day snack and housework hampers a team meeting. You need to organise your days by objectives – not because you need to set strict schedules and run your home like an army barracks, but because you need to be productive and to give each family member the attention they need.
For instance, you could use timesheets or Post-its to share with the rest of the family, especially younger children. List each single task that needs to be completed by the end of the day and include learning, work and housework but also leisure time, play and exercise.
To-do lists are especially helpful for those of us who do not have blocks of time available to us. Organise your day in tasks or micro-tasks; have a checklist to tick off – it will be like the thread of Ariadne guiding you though the labyrinth of things to get done; accept that interruptions and the unexpected are an unavoidable part of your new routine.
The Pomodoro Technique could be one way to avoid or reduce the number of continuous distractions in your day. One of the best-known time management methods, it was invented by the businessman Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and is now available as a smartphone app. It is a very simple method that can be summarized thus:
- Choose a task you would like to get done
- Work on the task for 25 minutes until the timer goes off (the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that gives its name to the technique)
- Take a 5-minute break
- Every 4 tasks completed, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
Whatever technique you go for, it is important to set the boundaries of your day as you would in normal circumstances.
Define you space
It is not only important to manage time, you also need to identify the space in your home to set aside for work, whether that be a desk or the kitchen table. Choosing a specific space that every family member can recognize will minimise disturbances and allow you to focus better. If having a space of your own is not possible, you could create a small area nearby for the children, as suggested by Marcello Albergoni, country manager of LinkedIn Italy. Make space for all the books the older children need and for toys or a playpen for the younger children. You can be together, but each is busy with their own activities.
Communicate and share
Communication is key to the success of any enterprise. You need to be honest and clear within the family – none of us was prepared for this surreal situation where our lives are overlapping for who knows how much longer. It is no coincidence that in Albergoni’s list of tips for smart working, the first is ‘be direct’, not just with your children but also with your partner. Explaining what we are doing, how long we need to do it and why we are doing it is important, it helps others to respond appropriately and avoids misunderstandings.
Good communication also makes it easier to share tasks when it comes to allowing both parents to take responsibility and to delegate. This will ease one person’s workload (usually the mother’s), creating a more relaxed atmosphere and giving every family member the opportunity to contribute to daily life. You could record these contributions for all to see on a Kanban board, as Meghan McInerny (Director of Strategic Experience Design, Best Buy) explained in a LinkedIn post entitled Kanban for Kids.
Working from home and having to take care of the family is not always easy. The best advice in exceptional times like these is to accept our own vulnerability, be sympathetic above all with ourselves and hopefully we will still be following this advice when all this is over.