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The home office struggles of a developer with a family during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has turned our lairs upside down. That is for sure. What is less so is being able to measure this upheaval. It affects each person differently and in a fluctuating manner over time. Each individual builds his or her life on a multitude of aspects (passions, hobbies, relationships, career, etc.). Rhythm is only found when there is a balance between the different aspects of one's life, coexisting with minimal frustration. It does take time to consolidate such a balance.

On a more personal level, I am the father of two young children (a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl) and I am in a couple with their mother, who is very professionally active herself. I leave the office on March 13. The next day marks the last day of school for my children. We all meet at home. Official measures have been taken, and we have to stay home. Luckily, we are in the middle of the Belgian Ardennes countryside, a small paradise to be confined in, with unique forests, streams, landscapes, fauna and flora.

A change of pace

All our daily habits need to be reviewed. Though our children enjoy being at home with us at first, they quickly realise that unlike during a holiday, we cannot focus all our attention on them. Extra-curricular activities are cancelled such as drum lessons for the big one, swimming pool for both, and horse riding for the little one, as are our personal activities. These issues create a lot of frustration for the children, putting their parents to the test. As parents, we find ourselves torn between our family and work responsibilities.

Following the contamination of my son's teacher, we set up small workshops at home. These are far from being tasks for the little ones, on the contrary, they seem to take real pleasure in it. Afterwards, we use some school materials we have found here and there to help them progress and have fun. We have also taken the opportunity to focus on some things they wanted to understand or study more in depth.

The worst enemy of a peaceful family life is the lack of attention to each other. In our case, it is clearly our role as parents to offer a maximum of space for the children to express their desires, frustrations and questions, especially those related to this pandemic (the disease, the spread and contamination, school, relatives, work at home, etc.). Our children have gradually assimilated our rhythm and made use of the spaces allocated to them.

Forming new daily routines

My partner and I have set up a schedule so that while one works, the other supervises the children. She worked from 5am to 8am and I would get up at around 7am and look after them over breakfast and during their morning preparations. We used to prepare as if we were going to school so as not to disrupt habits (which are more like reassuring rituals for the children). Around 9am I would settle in at my post. My partner would then start doing activities with the children, such as baking, drawing, arts and crafts, storytelling, etc. Then we would all get together for lunch, after which I would go back to work until +/- 3pm. During this time, depending on the weather, a walk or bike ride for the children with their mother would leave the house in royal silence. After that, I would take over with the children to do lighter things such as board or card games, shopping, music and even cartoons. We would stay together until dinner to let my partner work. Finally, once the children were comfortably settled in their beds, I would go back to work from 8 to 11pm. So, my day was divided into three parts: 3 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon and 3 hours in the evening.

The WFH-Conundrum

To work comfortably, I have set up a home office equipped with all the necessities for optimal concentration and efficiency: Computer, internet connection, armchair, heat, light, hi-fi for music, etc. My guitar is never very far away and lends itself well to a short break when a treatment is in progress or when I need to clear my mind. Occasionally the children would make a bit of noise during their playtime, but I was quite happy with that. After all, children should not have to suffer from this situation, and I would never ask them to stop having fun.

I can’t say that I missed the office during the first few days. I would even say that it was a joy not having to drive there every day. A certain anticipation animates the office with the desire to go beyond all physical constraints thanks to what communication and collaborative work technologies offer us. We have redirected our professional telephone lines to our respective mobile phones to remain fully available to our clients and partners. We have tested different communication software. For the first few weeks, we kept Discord open continuously and distributed the channels according to the existing office space. This way, we could easily move from one space to another to address a particular colleague. It didn't last long, but it was quite nice. The advantage was the immediate availability of anyone from the agency by simply addressing them as we would have done in our open space. Essentially, we were always as active and available for our clients as for our colleagues.

Video Conferences with screen sharing were common to allow us to progress in a precise way with work. That way, we could move forward together as a group without restrictions. The projects progressed smoothly. Interactions with designers, integrators, marketing or client-side editors went seamlessly. I made sure that the interactions were directed to my active time slots, even though I did occasionally break our family schedule to respond to an emergency.

Things will work out

As you probably have seen and experienced, adapting to this situation is crucial for the well-being of all. Our company is still facing some challenges, just as we all do within our families. Nothing can be done without effort. Nothing is acquired without difficulty. But the pleasure felt when things work, despite all the complications, is incomparable.