‘Challenging, stressful, amazing.’ What lockdown can teach us about balancing parenting with work

The pandemic has forced a generation of parents and children to work, learn and live together. A social experiment on a massive scale, the novelty of zero commute and toddler Zoom-bombing soon gave way to the monotonous drudgery of home school and creaking broadband.

With schools open again and companies plotting a cautious return to the office, what better time to take stock of the ups and downs of a year working from home? Especially now that many of us plan to make flexible working the norm.

We asked a cross section of Allica Bank’s home-working parents what they’ve learned.

Do they want more of the same, or is it a case of ‘be careful what you wish for…it might come true’? Let’s find out.

Culture really matters

While many companies embraced the transition to remote, others tolerated it through gritted teeth. Fortunately, at Allica, we were well-prepared to make the jump to working fully remote. “The flexibility they’ve offered has been a huge factor in making it all doable,” said Andy Carroll, head of product.

“Allica have been so supportive, allowing me to work around my little one and outside normal office hours. It really takes the pressure off,” agreed risk analyst Emma Wilkins.

Trust and support are clearly key features of a successful remote culture. Here’s Business Relationship Manager Charissa Chang: “I am trusted to manage my own days and workload, yet if I need help or support, I know I only have to ask my line manager.”

Absolutely – though flexible working is a two-way street, says Ravneet Shah, Integration Lead Engineer. “Flexible working promotes a healthy work-life balance but it should not be abused. It works more like a trust relationship between employee and employer.”

Finding the right work-life balance is as hard at home as it is in the office

Home school was the number one headache for Allica’s parents, with many mentioning a newfound respect for their children’s school teachers.

Several parents – particularly mums - talked about the immense pressure to excel on multiple fronts. “I feel like I have to do everything for everyone, on time and to perfection,” said Jen Read, operational risk manager.

Emma talked about the guilt she felt as a result of split priorities. “I felt bad for not giving my little one enough attention, then guilty for feeling I wasn’t putting in my best effort at work.”

Even without home school to contend with, finding the right balance remains a big challenge. Switching off from work at the end of the day – when your ‘office’ is just moments away - was a particular struggle.

“Be sure to set limits as it’s so easy to end up working all through the evening and burn out,” was how Emma put it.

The best part? Being there for those special moments

The flip side of working from home is ditching the commute to spend more time with family. “I used to feel terrible dropping the kids at school first thing and leaving them there 'til late,” said Ravneet.

Allica Bank CEO Richard Davies acknowledged lockdown had its challenges, "but it's meant I've been a lot closer to my family, and had a lot more fun with them as a result."

“Being around to see my boy learning to walk and talk – to be there for those milestones – has been amazing,” said Lawrence Holland, Allica’s head of deposits.

Sometimes, though, it’s those little things you’ll remember forever. Head of HR Richard Whorton: “When we had the snow we were able to go and play outside before it melted. That’s something I would have missed otherwise.”

The pandemic has proved the business case for flexible working

Not that CEO Richard Davies needed convincing, this period has reinforced this view. “A hybrid pattern of working from home with time in the office is absolutely the future,” he said. “Although having dedicated space for working at home is critical, as is being clear on what is work-time, and what is home-time.”

“Flexible working has shown me just how much I can get done in a short space of time,” said one parent. “I have learnt that I can really quickly focus in on tasks when needed.”

According to Andy Carroll, it helps when you have “…an environment where people are trusted and treated like adults, and where the focus is on outcomes delivered, rather than output.”

Lessons from lockdown

Allica’s parents had a number of tips, the product of happy – and hard - times. Jen Read recommends humour as a coping mechanism. “I’ve tried to see the funny side when I can, it really helps me get through those tough moments.”

“Always get dressed to work and keep your mind and body active,” suggests Nick Ling, recruitment partner. “I also find it helps to have plans and work towards small goals. It gives you a sense of purpose.”

“I have to be super organised,” says Charissa Chang. “I plan everything from my working day, from healthy meals to house work, shopping to school reminders.”

There’s no one-size fits all approach

“Everyone has different circumstances, such as where they live and how old their children are,” said Richard Whorton.

“I think the best thing is to have really honest and open communication with your manager, so they understand your situation and what you need to in order to balance family and work life.”

Life post pandemic

All of Allica’s parents are looking forward to getting back into the office, at least some of the time.

“Finding that balance of working from home and being in the office is so important,” Emma says. “I want to continue to watch my son grow and develop, but I also have my own work-related goals to accomplish.”

“Flexible working allows me to support my family by doing school run, and doctor/dentist trips,” Lawrence said. “But I’m looking forward to that being by choice!”

Nick suggested that “it’s all about using office time wisely. This is when I’ll have team meetings, meet up with stakeholders and look to build relationships. That’s important for my role, but it’s also an important part of building a successful company culture.”

There’s no denying parents have had it tough. Whether it’s teaching home school, navigating tantrums or unconsciously absorbing The Gruffalo book word-for-word, Allica’s parents have found themselves on the front line in a war between home and work life.

There have been dark moments, but also wonderful opportunities to spend more time with family.

More than anything was a recognition that remote working is here to stay. Allica Bank understands that and has proven its desire to offer as much flexibility and support as possible.

All companies are on a journey to providing their staff with a good work-life balance. The more we can learn from our experiences of lockdown life, the better.

Interested in working at Allica Bank? Take a look at our careers page.

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