It’s not as if finding a work-life balance has ever been easy, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the new work-from-home (WFH) status it has imposed on many of us has placed a new spin on this balance. There are time management issues to work out, team communication challenges to overcome, technology hiccups to smooth out, and more. It’s enough to make all of us reach for the “Agoraphobic’s Guide to Working From Home”. There is no such guide, of course, but you might wish there were when you throw into the mix the challenge of conducting professional and productive video calls from home while the kids are home too. It’s a situation just ripe for embarrassing moments and hair-pulling frustrations. Thankfully, even if you can’t overcome all the WFH challenges, there are at least some simple preparations you can take to head off awkward video calls. In fact, both employees and the businesses they work for can take steps to make those video calls successful even when the kids are home.
How businesses can help their employees
For businesses with large budgets, helping employees with the cost of remote working equipment such as monitors, cameras, etc., can go a long way towards easing some of the burden they find themselves in suddenly working from home.
Regular communication is vital. Managers should schedule weekly video conferences and check in with employees about their progress on tasks and deliverables. New deliverables and objectives should also be set so employees know what is expected of them.
Executives and managers who have kids can help normalize the presence of children in meetings by hosting some meetings with their own children nearby or sitting on their laps, or by scheduling end-of-day video calls where employees are invited to include their kids.
Remember cybersecurity; it is needed now more than ever. Hackers, being the opportunists that they are, are using COVID-19 to launch corona cyber attacks that exploit our eagerness to stay informed on the subject. They’re also taking advantage of the increase in video conferencing to spy on private meetings through cameras and microphones. Both businesses and individuals must protect their data and computers from these types of cyber attacks by installing powerful antivirus solutions that detect and prevent malware and invasions of privacy. It is a critical need that mustn’t be ignored, and SMBs, in particular, need to take notice; hackers are increasingly targeting them both because of their valuable data and their lack of cybersecurity protections.
What employees can do
Determine your work hours and then create a signal that indicates to family members that you cannot be disturbed (unless there’s an emergency) when the signal is on. The signal can be a do-not-disturb sign hung on your office door’s doorknob, a locked door, or just a ‘working’ sign taped to the wall. And then don’t bend the rules. It’s easier to turn ground rules into an accepted routine when you establish them early on.
Have a plan for your kids during your work hours. For young kids, you’ll have to delegate child-caring duties unless you plan on working only when they’re asleep. For older kids, teach them to be self-sufficient and how to keep occupied, get themselves snacks, etc. And be flexible about screen time, especially now when all of our lives have been turned upside down – a little extra screen time won’t hurt anyone.
Before you start your video call, check your appearance. Even though you may have followed the tip to get dressed as if you were actually going to work this morning, sometimes other pre-meeting activities can give us a disheveled look, like feeding children who like nothing better than to leave mashed banana stains on one of our sleeves that they used as a napkin.
Own that mute button. In spite of all your precautions, you never know when your child might run in during one of your video meetings and blurt out something you’d rather not broadcast to all your colleagues. You can preempt those types of embarrassing moments if you know how to mute your microphone at lightning speed.
Be careful with Bluetooth headsets. They pick up and amplify background noise and as we all know, kids can say the darndest things (and we won’t even talk about the noises.)
Remember to check your camera and make sure it’s adjusted at your eye level. If your kids used your desktop to talk to grandma, the camera was probably adjusted to their eye level, which will likely not show you in your most flattering position.
Keep in mind that, even with all these preparations, your children can still end up somehow in your meeting, interrupting, performing silly antics, and saying embarrassing things that all your colleagues will see or hear. If that happens, be prepared with a graceful apology and then to move on.
B.C. and after
Even in the ‘Before COVID’ (B.C.) era, it was clear that video conferencing had many advantages, but the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially thrust this technology upon many employees without any preparation, making some of them feel that their already fragile work-life balance is threatened and that they’re always heading off one awkward situation after another. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. A bit of discipline, a little practice, and a sprinkling of gracious understanding from everyone can make this whole WFH experience, not just doable, but enjoyable.