Will COVID-19 help create a new family-balanced way of working?

Dr Fern Kelly has gone from full-time in the office and working on her side-hustle in the evenings, to being home with her partner and their child. It’s requiring some adjustments, but there are definitely benefits…

The past week has been one where all plans have been thrown out the window. How quickly things have escalated. Life no longer resembles what it once was. It’s been necessary to leave all expectations at the door and just take it day-by-day.

I’m a mother, an international award-winning scientist, a specialist in textile innovation and a sustainability advocate. I’m the director of innovation for a smart textiles SME, whilst also building my own sustainable baby accessories company, LOMIE (@lomiebaby), on the side.

Early last week, I was happily working in the offices, a walking commute from home. Then, overnight, with the progression of the coronavirus, the decision was made to transition myself and a number of my team to remote working.

That meant that within 24h my working world had been turned on its head. This has progressed further with nursery and school closures and now lockdown.

My partner is a freelance photographer and we typically share childcare duties throughout the month so that we can both work and spend time with our son. That means when one of us is working, the other plays stay-at-home parent.

Specialising in architecture and interiors, the vast majority of Stefan’s work is based overseas, meaning work for him equals travel. His most recent shoot was cut short due to the country he was shooting in closing its borders as a protection method against the virus. All future shoots that were in the calendar have now been cancelled, with no idea if or when they’ll be rescheduled.

COVID-19 is also proving very challenging for the SME I work for – as I imagine it is for many other small businesses that are ‘makers’, with a number of employees unable to work from home.

The uncertainty surrounding our future is not easy. There are many question marks as to how bills will be paid in the coming months. So many unknowns. But my family means the world to me, we have our health, and I have always preferred to focus on the positives and find solutions, rather than get bogged down dwelling on the problem.

With Stefan’s shoots having been cancelled, it means he can be with our son while I hide away and focus on work. Perhaps it’s because of this, the transition to working from home hasn’t been as difficult as it would be for two parents attempting to work whilst also childminding.

But within a few days, I have been able to find a new rhythm and, what appears to be, an ability to share more time with my family alongside work and the ‘side-hustle’.

I am now able to do both the morning and evening routines with my son, as well as eat lunch together as a family. And due to the time saved in commuting I’m now able to spend a little extra time developing LOMIE.

The situation we’ve been thrown into puts us in a very interesting position. As we are locked down and are forced to practice self-isolation and social distancing, we have no other option than to slow down. Children and families must be acknowledged by employers and integrated into the daily routine, encouraging us to adapt, and become more innovative in our ways of working.

Although it’ll take time to adjust to the virtual office, and effort to keep team morale high, chat functions and video conferencing assist in bridging the distance. All the while, remote working allows us to spend more precious time with our loved ones.

It may be too early to say, but could the COVID-19 crisis lead us towards a more family-balanced way of working, and see a permanent shift in the years to come?