With the continued spread of Covid 19, families around the country (and wider world) have been faced with a very sudden change to their work/life balance. For many households, working from home, which may have previously been an occasional treat, or a once-a-week routine, has become the new norm. And for some people, this involves balancing the professional requirements of your day-job, with the day-to-day education and childcare of your offspring.
All this, as I have found out first hand, can result in the whole family crowding around the same kitchen table or desk space, as well as an uphill battle to keep high-traffic areas of the home tidy and clutter-free.
So, after spending the first few weeks with my children, aged 6 and 4, working at the dining table, (whilst the baby caused havoc around our feet), distracted by Daddy’s tea-breaks, (which did not coincide with ours), the draw of the TV, (and if they were allowed to watch Paw Patrol for the millionth time?), the toy cupboards (and if they were allowed to have play time yet?) and the appeal of the garden (and did I know the sun was shining, so could we play out?), I decided our otherwise amazing open-plan family space was not geared up for home-schooling!
Not only is the home-school element putting strain on the functionality of lots of family homes, but many people do not have houses geared up to work from home every day either. And certainly not for two working adults at the same time.
So I have put together some simple suggestions for how to create a bit of breathing space, and help ease the tension; using items that are readily available in the home, or can still be fairly easily purchased!
Create a work zone that can be hidden away during the evening or days off. This is great for people who are working from their living rooms, or bedrooms / spare bedrooms.
Try to create a work-only desk space from a spare table / dressing table so that you can take a proper break at meal-times. If you do not have a suitable table, you could build a ‘pop-up’ desk using two bedside tables or chests of drawers, and a piece of spare kitchen work-surface, or a couple of planks of wood, or a notice-board turned upside down. Be sure to protect the table-tops with an old tea-towel or similar.
Create a privacy screen to hide-away your work area when you are no longer working and also to reduce the risk of distractions from younger family members. Thread a bed-sheet or selection of scarves around a clothes airer or fire guard to build your own room divide.
Re-purpose a room
If you are fortunate enough to have a spare room, re-purpose it for the time being. The solution to our distraction-central open-plan environment was to move upstairs into my Son’s bedroom. As luck would have it, it has been fairly redundant since February, when the two eldest children requested they share a room. So the newly-spare bedroom had been suggested as a play-room, but was not really being used. We have moved in the old kitchen table from storage in the garage, rearranged the space slightly, pinned an alphabet poster and map of the world to the wall – and we have ourselves a school room. With lots of safe entertainment for the baby too!
The same would work in creating an office space. Again, you will need to improvise a suitable temporary desk and chair. Then try to create a welcoming working environment by ensuring you have suitable lighting, hang some artwork on the wall around you and add a small houseplant or framed photos of loved ones to bring in a homely touch!
Take advantage of alcoves
Alcoves are a fantastic way to introduce desk space. If you are lucky enough to live in a period property with alcoves either side of the fireplace, or, if an alcove has naturally been created by the gap between fitted furniture and a wall, you have an ideal scenario for building desk space that naturally tucks out of the way.
Create a table top using a couple of spare planks of wood, unused cupboard doors, or spare kitchen work surface. Simply attach brackets to the wall underneath the top, or if you can’t get hold of brackets, create a base using smaller strips of wood, attached to the wall on all three sides. Make sure they are level to avoid a wobbly table top!
Tidy the look up with a simple sand down and white-wash, and ensure you dress the space with some pictures, posters or plants and a lamp.
Transform the shed or summer house
If you have an under-utilised shed or summer house, now is the time to take advantage. Find a new home for any clutter (garage, loft, or tuck it tidily against one wall and cover it with a sheet or table cloth).
Create a desk space, using a couple of ladders placed at either edge of the space, and carefully place a couple of planks of wood across two rungs.
Think about lighting. Ideally, with all the sunshine we have been having, you want to place the seating area towards the back of the space, looking outdoors to avoid glare on the desk and computer screen. Ensure you have a desk lamp or uplighter to brighten any gloom.
Create positive change
Although this crazy situation will not last forever, there may be some changes that we chose to hold on to. My kids are definitely enjoying having their Dad around a bit more, with the working day reduced by the lack of commute.
There is no doubt the environment is benefitting from a reduction in pollution and our home jobs list has never had so many ticks on it! The garden is looking the best it ever has too!
Perhaps it might be worth making some of our temporary desk areas a little less temporary after all?!