Time to Marie Kondo Your Pipeline
As a parent of a small child who works from home but has recently lost the benefit of my usual child care, I thought about writing some encouragement for all those parents currently trying to juggling working from home and child care (and whatever other stressors you might be dealing with).
But there's a lot of that out there already: be kind to yourself, set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish in a day, challenge the gender power dynamics at play, et cetera, et cetera (or tips for designing your own homeschooling curriculum while simultaneously crushing it at work if you're That Parent). At best, all the advice to us WFH parents is just how to deal with a crappy situation.
If anyone has any power to address (some of) the roots of the problem, it is managers and senior staff.
Those who set the workload and expectations for their teams. Those who decide what goes into the pipeline.
I know you can't make it all go away, but there are some critical things you CAN do:
Have a check-in with each member of your team to see how things are going.** Use video - the nonverbal cues matter in a conversation like this. What do they have going on in their lives that is equally important to their work (or more important)? Be an ally in helping to set reasonable work expectations for the next few weeks based on what each person can accomplish, not your ideal. Factor in that people need time for relaxation and just getting the laundry done and grocery shopping is taking two times longer these days than it's supposed to. Some people are going to have to do most of their work after kids are in bed. They're also going to need to do everything else they didn't get to while kids were awake so...if you're wondering whether you need to ease up, you probably need to ease up.
Reassess your pipeline based on conversations with your team. I mean, really Marie Kondo that shit. But instead of asking "what sparks joy?" (copyright Marie Kondo forever and always), ask "What is most life-saving?" and then prioritize from there. I know that a lot of this work is truly lifesaving, so I'm not suggesting we all take the week off. But if there was ever a time to make sure your pipeline isn't clogged with time-wasters and long shots that you weren't going to win anyway, that time is now. Consider looming staff burnout as one of the factors in your competitiveness: if any member of the proposal team is on the verge of a break down, your chances of winning are going to plummet anyway.
Take seriously the authority your management position has given you and lead. Even if you didn't really want to be in management, or some nagging Imposter Syndrome is telling you you're not supposed to be here. Lead through your own example, and take time for your own needs. Advocate for your staff right up the chain of the command and fight for your people. Take 5 minutes to create some WFH fun on your next group Zoom call.
People can advocate for themselves all day, but it's only going to get so far if they're not working under a management structure that supports them. I know managers are also getting pressure from their bosses to keep productivity and wins up even in such an unprecedented time as this. So pause, and reflect what your ultimate goals are in management. You have the opportunity to be a voice for kindness, realistic expectations, and setting a workflow that's going to be about productivity in the long term, not just frantically throwing ourselves at reaching our targets in the short term.
**An extra note of caution: it's difficult to walk the line between being concerned/supportive and getting into matters that are potentially a protected, private part of people's personal lives.
Child care is not the only kind of care members of your team might be responsible for right now.
Consider that folx might be:
Caring for family members
Helping friends or family members care for children
Have a partner or family member who is working in a front-line essential role
Be dealing with mental health issues that make this particularly difficult, like anxiety and OCD
Have other priorities in their lives that are not work-related but still important
That is okay. That is acceptable. That is also none of your business.
So with regards to #1 above: Ask, listen. But do not press for information that is not freely given. And take people at the word. If someone is at capacity, they are at capacity. Most of all, be kind to others and be kind to yourself!