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Shine’s toolbox of tricks for working remotely with kids.

Shine Co-Founders Anna and Cal were recently asked by BBC Women’s Hour, BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Points West for their advice on a situation many of us around the world now find ourselves in. How can I simultaneously be a teacher, carer, partner and house keeper all whilst holding on to my career and my health…?

What we need most of all right now is comfort, love and the permission to be human.

Anna: For someone who’s been working from home for the past twenty years, Corona lockdown is not a new scenario for me. But working from home with my husband and two teenagers certainly is…

One of my kids is super-organised and logs on to her computer to do school work at 8.30am and is usually done by lunchtime, whereas the other one finds it very difficult to self-organise. This leads to our first argument around lunchtime when I take a break and discover that not much of her schoolwork is done. Now I have a choice: to react ( which comes from fear of her never passing her GCSEs) and try to be a school teacher, a role I’m utterly unsuited for – or to rise above it and see the bigger picture.

Like for many others, it’s the start of lockdown and I am still finding my rhythm.

Cal: Anna and I have both worked with thousands of women and for long enough to know that most are juggling several spinning plates at the best of times, so we have deep empathy for our Shine community right now. This week we were asked by the BBC to provide our tips on making everything at home and work, work together during lockdown, and this is what we shared. Take what is useful and ignore what isn’t, because every situation is different – but no matter what, allow yourself to be ‘human’ right now – we can only do our best.

1. Do what you can.

Take a moment, grab a cup of tea and if necessary hide in the loo just long enough to come up with the one or two things you want to focus on today. You will feel so much better when you (hopefully) achieve them. Too many people are writing epic lists which leave them feeling exhausted. A good idea is plan your day and to write those 1-2 things down so you can keep them in your sights and then come back to them later. 

Plan your day. Finish your day and shut down. Turning off social media during the day will find you space too.

If there’s two of you working from home, it’s a good idea to sit down and talk through your day or better still, the next couple of days so that you can make each other aware of what you both have on. That way, you can navigate calendar clashes. Talking of which, sharing your online calendars will really help you foresee problems before they come up. 

2. Don’t beat yourself up.

If there’s one thing that we see across the thousands of women we work with, it’s the belief that we’re never good enough. As wives, mothers, leaders, team-mates, friends, daughters and more. We take on so many roles and expect ourselves to be great at all of them. It’s rarely helpful and certainly never more so than now. Don’t worry about your kids regressing at school. They will go back and the teachers will meet them where they are at. They are experts in this. Whatever it takes to tame that inner-critic – we call them Gremlins at Shine – do it. Tell that Gremlin to go self-isolate and give yourself a break. This is absolutely not the time to be beating yourself up for what you can’t do or be right now. We need to watch our energy, because it influences our environment and the effectiveness of our family system. At the end of this interesting time we will all remember how we felt and not how much we got done.

3. Share equally.

Split home chores fairly with a co-created schedule to go with them – you can always switch them around if some jobs are more or less popular than others. Get everyone actively involved with no get-out. One of my colleagues threatened to switch off the WiFi for her teenage kids at the weekend if they didn’t do their bit and it worked wonders! When this is all behind us, you may well have created a more equal and collective new way of living that you will not want to give up. 

4. Be, not Do.

One thing we try to focus on at Shine is being rather doing. All it means is that you think about how you want to show up for a particular moment. This morning might be ‘fun mum’, this afternoon it might be dedicated team-mate or calming influence etc. If you focus on the being, you will see that the doing comes quite naturally.  

5. Appreciation goes a long way.

Taking the time to thank and appreciate someone for something they have done has enormous impact right now. It can be a quick message – though keep it specific to what you are grateful for. Even better, pick up the phone and say it in person if you are not in the same household. A number of our colleagues have taken the opportunity to sit down together as a family to eat in the evening (usually a rare thing) and are doing a round of ‘who or what am I grateful for today?’. It doesn’t have to something huge and significant but it does focus the mind on what is still good in our lives right now, brings positivity and energy and is a great antidote to victim-mentality!

6. Stop fighting over technology.

For years we have been complaining about our kids’ screen addictions and now we can take advantage of that and give them full permission to binge-watch documentaries, to do their homework on Microsoft Teams, conduct research on YouTube or BBC bitesize. The government has encouraged all schools to use the latest technology and Microsoft is giving Teams for Education to all schools for free. Teachers are making a tremendous effort to use the latest greatest software and to maintain the community spirit a school provides through connecting every day. Maybe when this is all over our relationships with technology will never be the same – in the best way.

7. Don’t go it alone.

We seem to get caught up in believing we have to do things alone. It’s a frequent and very real insight that we come across all the time, right across the world. Never have we needed allies and supporters as we do now and they may be different to the ones we’re used to. It’s worth writing it down – what do you need and who can help you?  If you are worried about asking for help, just remember how nice it is to support somebody else in need? Just ask for what you need. You may be surprised. And you can always return the compliment at some point. Also, if you have a vital work call or a deadline to hit, enlist your household by asking for their support ahead of time so they give you the space to ensure you are not disturbed. We’ve seen lots of home-art ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. There’s bound to be a time when you do it for them in return if you need to. 

By the way, the words ‘what can I do to support you right now?’ are magic words whether given or received.

8. Take the best ideas.

There’s a lot of great ideas about – some of which will be brilliant and godsends for you and some of which will leave you shouting ‘it’s alright for you’ with indignant rage. (My latest rage moment was an article about the best shade of lipstick for video calls). Don’t waste energy on what doesn’t work for you. Just adopt or adapt the good advice and enjoy the results. Whilst you’re at it, clearly articulate what you can control and what you can’t. If you can’t control it, do whatever you can to let it go or reframe it, or it will eat your energy. 

9. Speak up.

A lot of our community are telling us how they are actually getting to know their colleagues on a more personal level than ever before. Kids in the background of video calls, dogs popping into camera shot (my Dorset-based dog set my client’s dog off barking in Australia this morning!) or just people sharing how they are managing the complexities of current life is opening up more human conversations than ever before. Now is the opportunity to speak up and ask for what you need. It might be a more flexible work schedule as you support home-schooling or some help with a particular project. Whatever it is, this is the time to ask for what you need in practical terms. Most organisations, whilst dealing with major business issues, are incredibly aware of keeping their teams motivated for what is likely to feel like a long-haul. We firmly believe that this will accelerate more human ways of working that will benefit us all in the future – including our workplaces. 

Above all look after yourself. Adopt the ‘put your mask on before you help others’ approach and you will have the energy to keep going throughout. 

As ever, lots of love and good health to you and your loved ones, and be kind to yourself, Anna & Cal X

Anna Baréz-Brown speaks to BBC Points West

Update: A version of this article has also been published on the BBC Woman’s Hour blog >

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