Work and COVID: You’re not alone in the juggle struggle (and we have the survey to prove it)

by Jane Nethercote

We asked Beamers to tell us how work, life and COVID are going. Or not! We wanted to capture a bigger picture beyond the anecdotes. You responded enthusiastically. Thank you.

There are a few key things we learned. But perhaps most importantly, most people seem to be struggling. This isn’t work-life balance or work-life integration. It’s work-life survival. Scroll past the Instagram pics that tell you otherwise!

What people are finding hardest

When we asked what things were impacting people’s ability to get work done, there was a clear and unsurprising frontrunner: working from home with kids! This makes sense. Many of the people in our network are parents (due to a focus on meaningful part-time roles).

However, work issues are by no means just a struggle for those with children. Technology issues were the second biggest challenge affecting work. These were the top five things impacting work negatively:

  • 70% — working from home with kids
  • 23% — technology issues
  • 20% — working remotely
  • 19% — too many meetings
  • 14% — feeling isolated

On the flipside, 7% of respondents told us they were finding work easier and 12% said they were doing fine.

(n = 98: 91 women took the survey, 7 men; again a reflection of our network and the people more likely to seek flexible, part-time roles.)

How’s the gender balance?

At times of such large work upheaval — and enormous implications for who does what work — we asked people for their take on whether gender equity in their household (and the distribution of paid/unpaid work) had increased or decreased. Where applicable that is! Slightly more people said there was more gender equity than before, but for most households, nothing has appreciably changed.

  • 20% said gender equity had decreased
  • 23% said it had increased since COVID
  • 57% said it was the same

A couple of key trends

  • There are clear trade-offs being made between family/parent wellbeing and getting work done
  • Teleconferences are a clear point of trickiness — too many and also a perceived expectation that they must still seem pre-COVID professional (ie. no children/pets popping up in the background)

Aaand, just how are people managing work + kids?

  • A lot aren’t. It’s tough.
  • Working when the kids are around isn’t working well for most people. Almost no-one is managing to set their kids up for independent work and then just happily working!!! Unless their kids are older. This myth needs to be dispelled right now!
  • The most common approach = Don’t try to work and look after children at the same time. Work when someone else (partner, nanny or childcare) / something else (iPad, TV) is keeping the kids 100% occupied.
  • Second most common approach = Working from morning to night (ie. elongating the work day), but factoring in distractions from children and other needs. “My work is spread out more throughout the day and evening so that I can spend time with the kids and assist them with school work.”
  • Leftover work is being squished into every spare bit of time: very early mornings, nights, weekend. “If stuff doesn’t get done during the day, I work at night.”
  • Children are on screens a lot more than normal. “Lots of movies.” “I’m having to use iPad to help babysitting.”
  • Some are working from morning to night but factoring in disrupted work — ie they’re alternating between kids’ needs and work needs.
    “Working from early morning into the evening to get through the workload and manage kids remote learning and a preschooler activities and needs.”
  • For people who are coping, they seem to have a combination of support factors in place. Eg. Day care + great school program + partner sharing the load + a pre-existing part-time role + a great attitude! “I have two kids: 8 and 3. The little one is still in daycare, and the 8-year-old has a brilliant program from his school that we’re following. I also have an amazing husband WFH and we’re sharing the load. Key to it working for us has been to go for a walk or exercise first thing, at lunch and after dinner. Balancing homework with fun stuff and not feeling guilty about it. It’s not homeschooling, it’s survival.”

Top tips from our community

  • Pre-making snacks so kids can help themselves. WINNING.
  • Pay the older child to “play” with the younger and keep them entertained for stretches of time (in-house babysitting!)

So what might help? And who could make a big difference?

  • If you’re an A type, know this about yourself and lower standards quickly! What could you let go of?
  • If you’re a manager:
    • Be clear that it’s ok for kids/life craziness to be a part of teleconferences. Model it at your end.
    • Reduce meetings to the bare essentials
    • Touch base regularly with employees to check in on how they’re going with workload, technology and remote working. Adjust as needed.
    • Enable employees to reduce working hours temporarily (don’t forget to rescope their roles first to match this!)
    • Set clear, reasonable goals for the team; establish the most important work to assist people to focus on key tasks (not busy work)
    • Email Beam for support! (hello@beamaustralia.com.au) We have a bunch of resources and webinars to help HR and managers with working from home, role design and much more.
  • If you’re at a school:
    • Schools have an important role to play here to reduce parental stress 🙂 We absolutely understand that teachers are doing an amazing and tricky job already so these are suggestions based on what we’re hearing.
    • Embrace lowered curriculum expectations; focus on child’s wellbeing and happiness.
    • Spell out the most important things for children to be learning to help parents prioritise.
    • Give parents permission to adopt this approach with clear communication
    • Provide teacher-supported online learning (to enable parents to work at the same time)
    • Provide learning schedules the night before the school day (so parents aren’t starting the work and school day simultaneously)

Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences. You’re doing a great job, even if you feel like you aren’t. Right now, we’re giving you a big professional hug/high five!

Jane is the marketing department at Beam Australia.

Image by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash