Covid-19 School closures: tips and tools on working from home

As of Friday 20th March, schools across the UK are closed indefinitely.

For those working from home, this now means having to juggle work commitments and family life 24/7. We are now all Robert Kelly – the Political Science professor whose young child gleefully bounded into his office whilst being interviewed live on BBC News.

As many of us will have to eventually self-isolate, and parents/carers are encouraged to not ask elderly relatives to hep with childcare because they're one of the most vulnerable groups, people's lives are being turned upside down as we respond to this pandemic.

We've gathered the best tools and resources to make working from home with children a positive and productive experience.

As always, the Sussex Innovation team are available to help our members with general advice, as well as supporting with applications that require financial information. Please contact us via the community Slack channel or book a phone consultation using the details here.

Detail about school closures

Some schools will be kept open with a small number of staff on-hand to provide support for children with special educational needs, children who receive free school meals and the children of key workers. The full list of key workers is expected to be released today, but from what we can see now it includes health workers, police officers and supermarket delivery drivers.

For children eligible for school meals, emergency plans are being drawn up to ensure that vulnerable children do not go hungry when schools close. The government is planning a voucher scheme to make up for free school meals.

Available tools and support

In anticipation of such a closure, schools nationwide have been creating homework packs and online resources to help parents home-school. The Government is also working with the BBC to develop resources to keep children stimulated, by expanding services such as BBC Bitesize.

Many daily-learning platforms are offering their services free of charge. For a comprehensive list for free digital learning tools, please follow this link. Educational programming for school children will be increased across iPlayer and the red button to take the weight off working parents.

Top tips on working from home with your children:

1. Designate spaces for work and play

A great place to start is creating a designated 'schooling' area in your home. Having a specific classroom in your home will help create a sense of normality to your children's day. Having separate spaces for work and play will also increase your children's focus; it creates a natural boundary for both you and them. Above all else, it's important children have fun as well as learn. Set up a crafts table, a den-making space or a puzzle table. Home schooling groups are also springing up on Facebook and other social media platforms, and many teachers who will not be working in the conventional way will be offering their services through online classrooms and creating video content which already being shared freely online – yoga, singing, storytelling. We'll keep you updated with local offerings on our home-schooling ideas slack channel. Forbes has created a brilliant list of 101+ things to keep your children entertained during coronavirus closures here.

2. Create structure for you AND your children

One of the main parts of school is structure. Creating your own weekly structure will again help make their transition even smoother. Separate periods of study with frequent breaks, including time for fun and exercise. This won't be a one-size-fits-all model - find out what works best for your family and run with it! By having a daily schedule, you won't find yourself scraping the barrel for fun and engaging activities. This will improve your own productivity at work. Build your timetable around theirs; schedule meetings and complicated work for when they're working or playing quietly and schedule simpler, admin-type work for when they'll need your support or attention. Make sure on top of scheduling breaks for your children, you schedule breaks for yourself. A key productivity hack for working at home is a continual number of breaks to give your mind time to rest and work effectively.

3. Be flexible and communicative with your team

The likelihood is, balancing working from home with looking after your children is not going to be smooth from the start. Be open with your colleagues; you might need to step away for a meeting to help your child and that is OK! As of Friday, many workers will be going through the same thing. Speaking on a larger organisational front, companies need to be understanding of their employees' situations and accept that if a colleague cannot answer right away, you just need to wait. Employee-centricity and wellbeing should be at the forefront of every organisation where possible.

4. Varied activities: spend time outside and exercise

Having fresh air every day is incredibly beneficial to you and your children's health, even if it’s only for ten minutes. The same goes for physical activity, it's a free, quick and effective stress reliever and mental rejuvenator, especially as your children are used to running around a playground for at least an hour and a half at the very minimum! If you can't leave the house, you can find endless exercise videos online to do with your children. The Body Coach Joe Wicks will be holding daily workout videos for children to help with school closures - the nation's new PE teacher.

5. Mental Health Awareness

An important thing to take note is that for teens and tweens, school closures are a huge disruption to their routine and goals for 2020, especially now exams they've been religiously prepping for are cancelled. It's important during this time to play closer attention to your teenager's health and happiness and look out for signs if your children aren't coping with the new measures. Young Minds can provide expert support in this area.

6. Find joy and opportunity in extra time with your children.

With all the growing fear and anxiety surrounding coronavirus, our final point is about seeing the positives of working from home with your children. Apart from summer holidays, most siblings won’t be used to being together all day. It’s a great opportunity to grow your family relationships. Take the time to plan more family-activities and one-on-one time with your children to be more present in their daily lives. Of course, be prepared for some arguments. During this time, we need to cherish the silver linings where we can. There is excellent advice online on both how to effectively work at home with your children, and deal with this additional stress. Netmums is also a brilliant online forum for parents/carers to share and discuss tips, worries and insights on parenting today.

Sussex Innovation has a plethora of resources to support you and your business at this time – whether you need emotional support, advice on supporting your children in times of such uncertainty, or business advice, we can either help directly or point you in the direction of trusted advisors with the skills and backgrounds that you need. We'll be updating our advice on all things about balancing homeworking with homeschooling weekly, but please get in touch with us if there's anything you would really like us to cover or any specific challenges you are facing.