Working full-time, and being a full-time parent while working from home, can make it really hard to manage all your responsibilities and still find productivity and focus. Everyone’s personal situations are different, which means there’s no ‘silver bullet guide’ on how to do it.
That’s why we brought together three ‘developer parents’ from Prodigy Finance to find out how they’ve approached integrating their parental responsibilities with their day-to-day work at Prodigy. In our conversation, Sarah Brittan (Team Lead), Ruberto Paulo (Development Manager) and Richard Archer (Senior Development Manager) share some of their own experiences, and shed light on the strategies that have helped them so far.
Podcast timestamps of our conversation:
[05:55] Intros: How old is your child, and what does your role at Prodigy Finance entail?
[15:39] What does Prodigy Finance do?
[19:25] Adapting to remote work: Company response, and figuring out a home-office setup
[23:02] Setting and sticking to ‘availability boundaries’ as a parent
[30:05] Scheduling and prioritising meetings while managing parental responsibilities
[36:46] Setting up a ‘child friendly’ home-office while separating ‘work’ from ‘play’
[45:13] Dealing with focus while looking after a child, and adapting your parenting style
[51:37] Lessons in optimising productivity with a child, and building team trust
[55:41] Opportunity: How this experience have strengthened individuals and teams
[59:19] Panellists ask each other questions about juggling work and parenting
[01:04:45] Closing comments - and a final parenting ‘nugget’ from Richard!
On time management:
Building consistency into your availability during ‘office hours’ makes it easier to take control of your schedule, and when you’re available to help. Leaving ‘buffer’ time before and after your meetings makes it easier to deal with things you can’t plan for - be it a crisis at home with your child, or at work with your team.
Ruberto: “From a distance, everybody looks free. When you look on Slack and you just see that little green bubble, you think, ‘Oh cool, they’re ready to talk to me. They’re here and they’re online.’ So, one of the things I started doing – and here’s the thing that I took from being a parent – was to create some consistency. I spoke to, for example, all the people that I need to talk to frequently and said, ‘What is the most free day that you have during the week?’ From there, I’ll look at a couple of weeks going forward, and I’ll make a recurring meeting during that one ‘most free day’.
Then, between meetings, I’ll also make sure that I have 15 to 20 minutes extra just in case something happens at home with my child. So, I’m adding a lot of extra time to those conversations, just as a buffer, because you can’t always gauge 100% what’s going to happen.”
On scheduling and attending meetings:
Being critical of how active you need to be in meetings gives you breathing room to take care of parental responsibilities during meetings if you need to. Also, if you have to take care of your child, it helps to be critical of which meetings you really need to be in, and which you can have recorded or read an update from.
Ruberto: “I’ve sort of seen this as: Having a kid is a full-time job, and we’re trying to do this job in the gaps where that job allows us to have enough space. I’ve attended several meetings, actually, with my kid, and he’s sat there, bashed on my laptop, and looked at the lights – because he’s not very noisy. But it all depends on what sort of state he’s in. If he’s tired and cranky, I’m going to say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to be able to attend this. Could you please record the session? If anybody needs to talk to me, or ask me questions, I’ll be available after.’”
Sarah: “It’s very difficult. For me, I have three different levels of meetings, and I do mix and match how I schedule them depending on which of the three it is, and what I can manage to do. There are meetings that I need to attend, but I don’t need to necessarily talk in. So, for example, our company has a weekly company update, and those – without fail – fall during my son’s nap time, where he needs me to be holding him to put him to sleep. So, I have my Bluetooth headphone in one ear, and my laptop or phone balancing up against the wall so I can glance at anything being presented… That way, I can listen in and be part of meetings, and be learning. If he’s in a ‘tantrum’ kind of state, then I’m not concentrating and then I need to give him my full attention.
“When I need to be a partial participant – like, there’s 10-15 people in a meeting, and we are all contributing but there’s maybe five minutes of the meeting when I’m actually doing the talking – then I’m happy to schedule it while he’s awake and running around. I need to be monitoring his play, but I don’t necessarily need to be as hands-on. And as long as we’re in a safe confined space, I can keep an eye on him. Every now and then, he’ll join me on my lap and then he’ll be off again. And as long as we’re in a safe place where there’s not too many hazards around, I can keep tabs on the meeting for the most part and then just every now and again, pop off and deal with him.
“And then there are the meetings where I’m either running the meeting, or I’m an active participant and it involves me seriously concentrating and being hands-on in the meeting. Those I have to either excuse myself from, if I physically can’t give it the attention it needs, or make sure that my husband is on for that hour, or it’s during nap time.”
Richard: “One thing I have really enjoyed is that it does make you really question like, ‘Am I just agreeing to a meeting for the sake of it?“ When you have to think about whether you, as a parent, can attend that meeting, you really start going, ‘Do I need to be there? That one seems interesting, and I want to be part of it – is it possible to record it? If not, I’ll have to make a call and go, ‘Guys, I’m really sorry. I can’t make that one. I hope someone can let me know what’s going on afterwards.’
But, realistically, life gets in the way. There are all manner of things that could go wrong or just take your attention elsewhere. We all, really, should be in a position where we can go, ‘Guys, I’m sorry, apologies. Something more important at home with my child [has come up]. I’m off for a second.’”
On finding ‘child-friendly’, and productive home office setups:
Figuring out what kind of work requires what kind of focus, and which space in your house give you that focus, means you can assign your concentration more effectively. Having different spaces for working and watching your child, working away from your child, and relaxing also makes it easier to find a healthier work-life balance.
Sarah: “My workspace definitely moves around with me a lot more than I would prefer. My primary office space is in our lounge where we’ve set up a trestle table behind our couch – so, it’s ‘away and to the side’, but it’s a designated space for me. And from there, I can supervise my son’s general play. But at the same time, for meetings where I’m not looking after my son, my husband has moved his workspace to that desk, and I use his primary workspace in our study. **When I’m in really intense concentration times, I’ll swap to the more secluded office, and he will use the more ‘public facing’ office. **
“I must admit, though, there are plenty of times where I’m actually working in the garden. My son is the happiest he can be when he’s outside, so the back garden [is a real lifesaver], [even if it means] I [have to sit] on the step with my laptop on my lap. He’ll be happily crawling around the garden, I can see him, he can look at me and show me something and I’ll smile and nod and he can get on and play. Then I can actually do some more intense concentration stuff outside – could be like planning for a meeting, checking in with my team members, or having the odd call.”
Ruberto: “We didn’t actually have any sort of office space in our house at all. My first week, I sat on the couch in our lounge and my kid was right at my feet. My wife’s would be on the other end of the couch doing her work on her laptop. Needless to say, that was a big mistake. The first week was probably the hardest time ever: This was not just my working space, it was also the space in which my kid plays and the space in which I’m supposed to relax.
“Now, I’m actually sitting in our spare room at my wife’s dressing table and, just outside the door, I have a couple of exercise things. If I’m trying to get regular breaks, whenever my kid wakes up, my wife will bring him to me, I’ll hold him, play with him for like 10 minutes, get outside [the room], lift a couple of weights, do a pull-up, then I get to the lounge, get a drink of water… I basically try to break up the day, and get up and move around to do things.
“Doing that has dramatically changed the way our house feels, the space feels: When I’m in the lounge, I’m playing with my boy now, and that’s like the playroom. When I’m in this room, it’s a ‘work’ room, and that’s great.”
Richard: “I’m currently in my loft. It’s the only upstairs room we have in the house, basically full of bikes and dartboards and – oh gosh – old biltong kits… all sorts of stuff. Basically, I just shoved all that to one side, set up a little desk, got some monitors and all that sort of business.**
“If I’m going to recommend anything for anyone: Invest in a mesh router – game-changing. I’m able to just wander around the house as I have to: Sometimes you need to be in the garden, just waving and going, ‘Yes, that is a very nice stone’; and sometimes you need to be in your bedroom.
“But honestly, to have a space where you can go, ‘My day job is done, close the laptop, walk away from the room’ – that’s vital. If you can manage that, it’s a really, really valuable commodity.
On managing focus and concentration:
Finding times for deep focus is hard when you’re a work-from-home parent. However, building trust - with your partner, and your team - can be a powerful tool. In addition, acknowledging that being a parent is a full-time job means cutting yourself some slack - you can’t be as productive as you would be in an office, and you shouldn’t expect that of yourself!
Richard: “Half my day is: This ear is listening down the corridor, listening for sounds of some sort of stress – or maybe not even sounds, just general vibes of like, ‘Okay, I think I need to go and see how people are doing down that side’ – I can’t really quantify it. Sometimes it’s that a three-year-old has found something and gone, ‘I’m going to push that over’, and sometimes it’s actually the eerie silence, which is somehow worse. But you are basically working with one ear… or, 50% of your senses are focused elsewhere.
“I mean, if I’m honest with you, realistically, the time I get to focus is during those ‘four o'clock in the morning’ type of sessions, when you happen to be awake and go, ‘Well, I guess now it’s only me. I get this stuff done.’ But that’s not ideal. Don’t do it.”
Sarah: “With finding focus and concentration, it’s come down to a lot of trust – trust between me and my husband. While I was on maternity leave, I had been the primary caregiver in our home for eight months, and my husband had been the ‘go to work and come back and help in the evening’ dad – and he’s an amazing dad. Now, with a brand new job, that’s now full-time at home, I’ve [become a bit] anxious. In the past, it would have been a lot harder for me to relax fully when he had my son… And now I’m like, ‘I have to trust him. If he’s got my son, he’s got my son. He’s his dad, he’ll be fine. And if he’s not fine, he will come get me.’ That’s one thing that’s actually been really great for us during this time: We’ve had to find a more balanced parenting style.
“But at the moment, I do a lot more work in the evenings than I would like to – but the evenings are when I can actually concentrate once my son’s asleep. I definitely don’t work every evening – it’s really important to have downtime – but I try to prioritise more ‘deep focus’ stuff for those kinds of times, when I know my son’s asleep.
That said, I actually just don’t put pressure on myself to do a lot of high productivity stuff when my son’s around. When I was trying to solve an algorithm or code something new while watching my son, I’d just get more stressed and more frustrated – both with work and with him. So, I decided to take the pressure off and be like, ‘I don’t expect high productivity when I’m looking after my son fully.’”
We’d love to hear from the other parents out there on how they’re juggling childcare and work while working from home. Feel free to add your tips to the comments below, or reach out to us on social media with the tag @OfferZen – you never know who else in our community could benefit from your advice!