When you imagined the life of a remote worker, chances are it involved working from adedicated home office, surrounded by all the comforts of home with zero distractions.
You probably didn’t imagine being stuck in the house 24/7, trying to meet your deadlines while also having to deal with a screaming toddler!
Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic is difficult for everyone, but it poses a particular challenge for parents, guardians, and anyone else who has to work from home while caring for a child.
If you’re starting to feel the strain of being a full time remote worker and a full time childminder, then tech can make this difficult situation slightly less difficult.
Every family and situation is different, but in this article we’ll be sharing the technical tips and tricks that have helped our staff work from home, while taking care of their children.
Sharing childcare responsibilities? Create a shared calendar
Do you live with another responsible adult, partner, caregiver, or someone else who you trust to take care of your child? If you can share childcare responsibilities with another person, then tech can help you make the most of this opportunity.
Wherever possible, you should divide the day into shifts, so every working adult has a block of time where they can focus exclusively on their work. When creating this calendar, don’t forget to schedule time for activities that aren’t related to work or childcare, for example setting aside time to address household needs, do some exercise, or simply have some “me” time.
Negotiating a schedule that suits everyone isn’t always straightforward, so it may help to share your work calendar with the other adults in your household, and vice versa. When everyone has insight into each other’s work commitments, you stand the best possible chance of creating a schedule that suits everyone.
If you’re an Office 365 user, then you can quickly and easily share your calendar with anyone who has an Office 365 account, or an Outlook.com account.
To share your calendar:
- Make sure you’re logged into your Office 365 account.
- Open the Outlook calendar.
- In the toolbar, select “Share.”
- Enter the name or the email address of everyone you want to share your calendar with.
You can use the subsequent dropdown menus to control how much information the other person has access to, and whether they can edit your calendar. Note that the available options may vary, depending on whether the recipient is part of your Office 365 organization:
- Can view when I’m busy. The recipient cannot view any information about your events, including their titles and location. This limited view can be useful if you want to avoid overwhelming the person with unnecessary information – after all, do they really need to know that Sarah from accounting is attending your weekly Monday briefing, or do they just need to know that you’ll be busy between 9AM and 10AM, every single Monday?
- Can view titles and locations. The recipient can view limited information about the events in your calendar, including where the event will be taking place. This option can be useful if you’re unable to work from home 100% of the time, and still need to attend the occasional event outside your home.
- Can view all details. The recipient will be able to view all the information, for all the events within your calendar.
- Can edit. If this person is part of your Office 365 organization, then you can give them the power to edit your calendar.
Regardless of which option you select, any calendar items that are marked as private will remain private, so the recipient will be unable to view the title, location or any other details associated with your private events.
When you’re ready to send the calendar invite, click “Share” and the recipient(s) will receive an email, granting them access to your calendar.
Childcare emergency? Keep your colleagues in the loop
Even when you’re working from home, unforeseen circumstances can still take you away from your desk – the only difference is that your colleagues cannot physically see that you’re out of office.
Whether it’s a baby who’s woken from their nap early; a family member who’s fallen ill and needs your help; or a partner who’s having their own crisis in the workplace and is unable to watch your child as previously agreed, if you need to step away from your computer, then you also need to let your coworkers know what’s going on.
Hopefully, you’ll have time to notify your boss about the emergency, or to agree a period of absence with your manager. However, you also need to ensure that if a coworker or customer does try to contact you, then they’ll realise that you’re out of office.
For Office 365 users, there’s several ways that you can keep coworkers and clients in the loop.
1. Change your status in Microsoft Teams
With more people working from home than ever before, communication tools such as Microsoft Teams are essential for helping coworkers stay in touch, even when they’re geographically separated.
If Teams is your primary means of communicating with coworkers, then your status in Teams should always reflect your current availability. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of updating your status every single time you step away from the computer, even if you’re only planning to be away for a few minutes.
To change your status in Microsoft Teams:
- Log into the Team application.
- Select your profile icon and hover over the status information.
- Choose a status from the sub-menu, such as “Be Right Back” or “Busy.”
While you’re here, you may also want to create a message that’ll appear automatically if someone sends you a message while you’re in this status. For example, you might create a message that provides some information about why you’re away, and when you expect to be back in the office.
- Select “Set status message.”
- Enter the message that you want to use.
- Select “Show when people message me.”
- Click “Done.”
2. Create an out of office autoresponder
Are you going to be out of office for a significant period of time? Or perhaps you need to step away from the computer at the worst possible moment, for example when you’re expecting an important email from a potential new client?
In these scenarios, you can setup an out of office autoresponder, so anyone who emails you will know not to expect an immediate response:
- Head over to the Outlook app.
- In the Outlook toolbar, select “Settings > View all Outlook settings.”
- In the subsequent window, select “Mail.”
- Select “Automatic replies > Turn on automatic replies”
- If you know when you’ll be back in the office, then you can set an “End Time” at which point the autoresponder will be disabled automatically. If you don’t specify an “End Time,” then you’ll need to remember to disable the autoresponder manually.
- Find the following section: “Send automatic replies inside your organization,” and type the response that’ll be sent to any colleague who emails you. If you suspect a coworker may need to speak to you urgently, then you may want to include some emergency contact information in your autoresponse, such as your personal mobile number, or the contact details of a colleague who can handle any workplace emergencies in your absence.
- Do you regularly communicate with people outside your organization? You can create a separate autoresponder for anyone who doesn’t work at your company – just be aware that this response will be sent to everyone, including spammers and mailing lists. To setup an anyone-and-everyone autoresponder, select “Send replies outside your organization” and then enter the text that you want to use.
- When you’re happy with the information you’ve entered, click “Save.” Your autoresponder is now live!
If you didn’t set an end date, then you’ll need to disable your autoresponder manually when you’re back in the office. To disable an autoresponder, navigate to “Settings > View all Outlook settings > Automatic replies,” and then push the “Automatic replies on” slider into the “Off” position.
Communication is key: Asking for help
Many businesses have measures in place to help support employees who are working from home while taking care of children. You should reach out to your manager or HR department to find out what help is available, for example your organization may be offering additional annual leave for parents, or flexible working hours.
If you’re juggling remote working with childcare duties, then you should also set realistic expectations about the work you can complete in the current circumstances. If you’re struggling to meet all your workplace responsibilities, then you must communicate this to your boss, team leader, manager or anyone else in a supervisor role, as early as possible. Your company may be able to help by reducing your workload, assigning a coworker to help you complete your projects, or temporarily suspend some of your non-essential work.
While asking for this kind of help may be disheartening, it’s far better to address potential issues now, rather than waiting until after you’ve missed a deadline and failed to deliver some essential work.
Are you an employer who wants to help support your remote workers during the coronavirus pandemic? Check out our guide to supporting your newly remote workforce.
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