Covid-19: Reclaiming 'home' in work from home

Covid-19 related remote working and learning has given us greater possibility in balancing work and home lives, but has 'home' gotten the short end of the stick?

In the two years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, only 1% of the work-related emails I sent were sent outside of standard working hours. This amounts to just 15 of the 2675 work-related emails I sent in all of 2018 and 2019 were sent before 8am or after 7pm.

One year after Covid-19 pushed many of us to work from home, 15% or 103 of the 670 work-related emails I’ve sent have been outside of normal working hours (see Figure 1).

What’s more, some of my remote workdays started as early as 5am and ended as late as 10pm.

Flexible working hours has been one of the advantages of working from home during the pandemic, and so on one hand this shift in standard working hours is expected. On the other hand, unless this shift is formalized in the workplace, I still tend to feel a sense of guilt, even when I am starting my day earlier (or ending it later) in order to compensate for flexible working hours.

Kids Screen Time

In the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown, my wife and I scrambled to ensure our daughters (age 4, 6 and 9) were set up for lockdown mode as well as remote learning with their school. Prior to Covid-19, there was never a need to ensure their access to a laptop or tablet, they also did not play games on phones. They were accustomed to watching at most a few hours of movies and shows on Netflix in between water coloring, playing legos and music on the piano. Once lockdown measures set in, our daughters became progressively more attached to laptops or tablets. This was partly due to their remote learning schedule but it was also due to their engaging more and more with mind-numbing online games and streaming TV. Right when my wife and I were scrambling to juggle the unexpected early-pandemic demands, the line separating our children’s screen time for remote learning vs. leisure began to blur.

Figure 2 shows that by late April 2020, almost two months after the full-lockdown began, our oldest daughter was averaging 250 leisure minutes a day on the screen. It also took us a good couple of months to get this number back down to our max threshold of 100 minutes a day.

Conclusion

So how do we reclaim our sense of ‘home’ following the Covid-19 induced pressures of lockdown, remote working and learning? In our house we are doing this by adding quality back into our leisure time. We are getting our daughters back to engaging with their natural (and offline) interests, while also reducing their screen time to an acceptable threshold. As for me, I am trying to minimize sending work emails outside of standard working hours, while also acknowledging that work-from-home arrangements have shifted what is understood as ‘standard’. Finally, all of us are coming up with creative ways to spend more time at the table! (Hint: add a healthy desert at the end of dinner for an extra 15 minutes together a day!)