C-Suite parents share working at home tips

For many people, the home office is now also a home school.

by Simon Gwynn
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2020
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Coronavirus

While the coronavirus pandemic has changed life in a myriad of ways, one not yet greatly considered is how it has blunted the impact of certain elements of culture – and there can be few better examples of this than 2017’s best TV clip, universally hailed at the time as one of the purest, most joyous things available to watch online… and now utterly banal.

South Korea-based political analyst Robert Kelly may have had a charming everyman vibe when he was interrupted by his young children while being interviewed on BBC News, but that kind of video call is now an everyday occurrence for millions of parents juggling the care and education of their offspring with the need to get work done, while being unable to leave home. 

There’s obviously no silver bullet to making it work: no two homes will have the same atmosphere, daily rhythm or challenges. For some, this time will provide an invaluable opportunity to forge closer bonds, while others will be counting down the days until normality resumes.

Some kids might struggle to continue with their education properly, but as Oystercatchers’ Richard Robinson notes, that’s not necessarily the case. And perhaps when this is over, one change we’ll see is an increased acknowledgement that the formal institution of school does not work well for everyone – something many in the creative industries have argued for decades.

The next few weeks, and perhaps months, will be a testing time for households of all kinds. While many have noted the likelihood of a quarantine-inspired baby boom starting around this December, 2020 may also see a summer of divorce as some couples realise they just aren’t meant to be together. That’s before we get on to the early-stage couples who have unwisely decided to shack up rather than forgo sex for a month. 

Siblings and flatmates across the land also stand on the verge of ripping each other to shreds – and elderly and disabled people, their carers and some of those living on their own may have the toughest time of all. The grass will always look greener in next door’s quarantine house. But given we’ve got no choice but to get on with it, we asked some executive parents in the creative industries how they're making it work.

Richard Robinson

Managing director, Oystercatchers

They say never work with children or animals, and I’m now working with two of each. Add to this a partner who’s gone into hibernation to protect her compromised immune system, and to badly misuse the Notorious BIG: "Things done changed on this side."

But, in these early days, I’ve learned that children are amazing, especially when you strip away the school rules and give them total responsibility for their learning. They understand what’s going on, what’s being asked of them and are learning lessons that just a week ago were inconceivable.

We talk, a lot; I’m up early to cook pancakes; and end the day getting everything prepared for the next. For me, the key is to find humour when things don’t go to plan – dogs who don’t give a shit you’re on a video conference – and joy in small things you’d normally miss, like proudly hearing your daughter shouting: "I hate Tahoma!" God, how I hate the font Tahoma too.

Sophie Lewis

Chief strategy officer, Mcgarrybowen

I am very lucky in that my five-year-old twins (Minnie and Arthur) are currently enrolled at the school of David in the kitchen. I am in the loft. My husband looks after our kids, which even in Brighton is a reasonably unusual situation, and so the bulk of educating them now falls to him. However, I work a four-day week, so it will be the school of Sophie on Friday.

We have been sent excellent material from the school. But they are still our kids and, as we all know, the teacher/pupil relationship is well… different. Discipline, respect, listening, concentration all seem harder to maintain when Daddy or Mama are the ones doing the teaching. Not to mention a distinct lack of skill and patience. I can only guess at the difficulty of trying to teach and do your job at the same time.

So, here’s what I’m thinking. It’s an app, called TCHR. The mature/retired teachers in the UK (currently feeling isolated) sign up (with details of the level and subject they teach) and parents can book them for 45-minute slots to "teach"’ their kids virtually. Watch this space.

Joe Braithwaite

Managing director, Proximity London

When your office and your home become one and the same place, the obvious challenge is how to maintain productivity whilst keeping your kids on side. I spent my first few WFH days trying to barricade myself in our top-floor bedroom for solitude. But after my two-year-old daughter Willow scaled two stair gates, leapt the pillow barricade and dislodged the chair against the door, I realised there was no escape.

What’s working much better is to not try and keep her at arm’s length but to involve her. I try to explain what I’m doing, show her my presentations and even let her join a couple of video conferences. Unsurprisingly, she soon loses interest and drifts off to watch Frozen. I’m no match for Elsa!

Sarah Douglas

Chief executive, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Fluidity within a framework. Team Douglas are working and studying separately but in unison, then coming together for family time around meals. But every home is different and it’s definitely harder for younger families, so I am encouraging my people to find their own rhythm. In all this, we must take care of each other – celebrate the days it works, forgive ourselves for the days it doesn’t and try again tomorrow. That said, I’m getting better at spinning on a dime into a random maths equation whilst writing articles like this.

Adrian Walcott

Managing director, Brands with Values

What has helped is that my wife and two children, 10 and 12 years old, have always loved being at home. We love nothing more than to hibernate, eat together as a family and relax. My day starts around 6am with mediation before the rest of the family wake up. Between nine and 12pm, our children tackle worksheets and projects whilst I am working. Then lunch, followed by fun activities 1-3.30pm. In their free time, they both love sport, so the only change I have had to make is to crowbar in some time to play goalkeeper in-between the Zooms. It could be worse. 

Raquel Chicourel

Chief strategy officer, Grey London

Whether you’re a parent or not, we’re all struggling for time to think and the ability to focus amid the back-to-back Zoom calls and pandemic vibes. As a working mum of three, working from home while home-schooling the girls equates to a zombie film; it starts well and, inevitably, ends in pain and disaster. At 9am on Monday, "home school" was open, the schedule was up, we said our welcomes, Joe Wicks was on and we were all fired up. Juggling calls, deadlines and lessons, day one was going well until mutiny and tears. No school work was being done by the afternoon. I’m sure we’ll adapt.

Jennifer Black

Managing director, Havas London

Central to all this is communication and structure. While technology is allowing us to work from home, we risk being too connected and being bombarded by a flurry of virtual meetings, emails, video calls and group chats throughout the day. To prevent overwhelming people, in particular parents, reduce the number of meetings in the calendar where possible, keep the meetings short, outline times for lunch, teaching and care breaks, and delineate when the working day should start and end. And, for parents, that doesn’t necessarily mean being available eight hours a day. Clients will be respectful of the working routines we put in place for our employees, specifically for those with young children, because they will be going through the same thing themselves.

This article first appeared in our sister title Campaign

Image credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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