Balancing Work and Family While Social Distancing

By Lisa Cohn, PHR

We are all struggling to adapt to the ever-changing world impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Trying to avoid getting sick, adjusting to social isolation, working from home, and if you have kids, taking care of their needs concurrently has become a massive undertaking. How do you balance it all and keep things running with some sense of normalcy, decorum and efficiency?  What works best for me, and my family, is to run my home office and kids’ educational and entertainment needs as a mini business where both operate by guidelines, clear expectations, and communication. 

Here are some helpful tips to make this transition work: 

  • Create your own physical workspace.  Make sure that you have a private area where you can close the door and filter out noise. I find it helpful to use my office in the basement, a small, secluded nook. I like to keep everything at my fingertips so that I’m not running around and can stay focused. Make sure that you have enough room for your supplies (paper, pens, water, phone, etc.) and consider using white noise or headphones to block out distractions. You will want to keep everything ready to work effectively and efficiency as you never know how limited your time may be due to unforeseen interruptions with a full, socially isolated household. 
  • Flexibility and organization are the name of the game:  You may need to adjust your schedule and work outside your traditional work hours. Based on my experience thus far working during the pandemic, I find myself able to work in 2-3 hours intervals. It has become increasingly evident the need to wake up early, before the kids, and/or work late after the kids go to bed, or to put in some additional hours over the weekend to stay up to date at work.  I find it helpful to keep a running to do list and highlight the items that are priority. Also, I utilize the electronic folders in my email account. I always keep my phone on me just in case anyone has to reach me for work, either day or night.
  • Set up a routine for your kids.  Kids thrive on routine and structure, as it helps them adapt to new situations.  My daughter and I sat down together and created a weekly schedule, including Community Circle, and depending on the day, some of the following- Language Arts (reading and sight words), Lunch, PE (yoga, riding bike outside, etc.), Math (flash cards and iPad math games), Cooking , Science, Art (drawing), Technology (typing email to her teacher) and Centers (areas dedicated to blocks, magna tiles, dolls, arts and crafts, etc. setup throughout my home). Just keep in mind, it’s a very loose schedule, and needs to be flexible around your work schedule.
  • Encourage independent play. Kids need free time to play and explore on their own and have fun (depending on age of course). We implemented “quiet” time for my 5-year-old on the weekends for an hour a day in her room a year ago, and we added 2 hours of “play time” during workdays. We encourage her to play with anything she wants as long as she’s by herself, or with her younger sister. The other day my daughter used this time to create an intricate obstacle course around our living room and drew a map for a pirate ship and treasure chest. She then brought her little sister on the trip using a “boat “she built out of couch cushions.  This was a win-win, our kids were happy and busy, and my husband and I were both able to put in two hours of uninterrupted work time! 
  • Set boundaries, but be flexible.  Be flexible with your work schedule and work times, but schedule meetings and phone calls in advance. It’s important to stress to your significant other and kids that you are still considered at work even though you’re at home. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions, be flexible, but remember that there should be some sort of expectations that everyone respects in order for your home to function like a business.
  • Keep in close contact with your boss, business partners, and colleagues.  Set up some regular, routine meeting times with your team so you can stay on track at work. This communication helps you stay focused on your work goals, schedule, and timelines. Keep daily contact with your boss to make sure that you’re staying on task and meeting priorities and expectations. My supervisor and I usually build in time to have daily FaceTime meetings where we catch up on clients, concerns, projects, etc.  If possible, schedule conference calls well in advance so that you have enough time to prep and can be in your workspace for the phone call.
  • Don’t be afraid to incorporate screen time and technology into your kids’ day. There are many fun, free, and educational resources available online that I use daily for my kids. They can take virtual interactive field trips to farms, meet firefighters and learn about fire safety, and have a behind the scenes animal encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo. There are also plenty of story time reading events and all types of instructional videos online. You can find direct links on google.com for lists of virtual field trips, and your kids’ school may provide recommended scholastic links for great resources. During lunch time, my daughter recently took a “Lunch DOODLES with Mo Millems” class where she used his guided video to create finger puppets! She also watched an astronaut, floating in a spaceship, who read one of her new favorite books, “Rosie Revere, Engineer.” 

Just remember to take it one day at a time and realize that nothing runs perfectly. Things are always a work in progress.  Lastly, I find it helpful to incorporate brief physical work breaks during the day where you can decompress, such as a short walk or a family stretch. This keeps you connected to your family and is also an opportunity to get some fresh air and move around a bit to keep you feeling refreshed and energetic to handle the day and keep you balanced.   


Lisa P. Cohn, PHR, is an Account Representative in the Ignite Career Center.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go further and get there faster.  Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition.  For information, call 410-466-9200 or visit ignitecareercenter.com

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