Navigating the New Normal
Now working from home-on at least some days each week-is becoming the norm for many, we examine the change of dynamic in the employer/nanny relationship, with some practical suggestions for success.
Prior to the instructions to ‘Stay at home and work from home if you can’, most experienced nannies would likely have worked in roles termed ‘sole charge’: parents heading to the office shortly after a nanny’s start time and returning to relieve their nanny at the end of the day. Now, with the majority of parents able and happy to work from home and able to ‘dip in’ to help with childcare at least some of the time, many nannies find their role has somewhat evolved. In some cases, this has proved mutually beneficial, without a commute parents are able to be increasingly hands on with nursery runs, class attendance, appointments, which can lighten their nanny’s workload a little. However, often the presence of more adults in the home presents its own challenges...!
“At the beginning of lockdown, I kept wondering where my - previously - calm and well-behaved charges had gone.” explained a frustrated nanny working in Kensington. “Both parents were working from home in the open plan kitchen where I prepare and serve meals and where the children, then aged 17 months and 3yrs, had most of their toys! It was a logistical nightmare. The children couldn’t understand why Mummy and Daddy were there but couldn’t play with them. They were uncharacteristically clingy with their parents and reluctant to come to me and play (despite suggesting their favourite activities). Equally the parents both needed peace and quiet to focus on their work and had frequent video calls. In tense moments it was difficult to ensure a consistent approach with the children. After several fraught days, I plucked up enough courage to arrange a sit-down chat. We were able to discuss a strategy going forward. It took some time to adjust but things are working well.”
Another nanny working in West London told us “Despite my initial annoyances, I’ve realised that having parents working at home more often does have benefits. I’m able to leave a little earlier each day as both parents no longer commute frequently and they often like to spend half an hour with the children after lunch and encourage me to have short break, which I really value.”
From our conversations with parents and nannies, it seems that the following considerations have been key in ensuring a harmonious and sustainable work environment for everyone.
A dedicated workspace for parents away from areas used by the children in the day is essential. Where space is at a premium families may need to think creatively, move furniture and invest in a few key items to ensure their workspace is comfortable and practical long term.
Agree a general structure for working from home days.
Set and stick to key timings and behaviours for example, times for:
-Morning handover to your nanny
-Lunch (whether you plan on eating with the children or if you will use the kitchen while they are outside the house.
-Parents time with the children
Reflect on how the children cope with you popping in to say a quick hello. Is there a time of day that works best for this? Will a brief visit leave you nanny dealing with a major upset? While some parents may resent restrictions on their movements within their home or being given ‘slots’ to interact with their children, it is important to consider the impact your actions may have on the nanny’s working day (s/he is often caring for your child for a large chunk of the day and as a professional, is keen to ensure a calm, enjoyable and productive day for everyone)! If you do have free time in the working day and you plan on spending time with your child, mention it in advance to your nanny so she is able to co-ordinate accordingly.
For toddlers and younger children, a visual reminder (for example a picture chart) of the pattern of the day can be a huge help in easing the transitions between carers. A certain familiar song or rhyme each time can help children predict what will happen next. For older children perhaps a sign on the home office door (‘Hard at work’, “Shhhh... on a call!” Or “Free to chat - come on in”) can work well.
-Arrangements for the end of the day
Does it make sense to adjust your nanny’s working hours according to you own new work pattern. Consider coming to an agreement to allow for early finishes when working from home, if possible, but with reciprocal cover should a video call run late on occasion or in case of transport /traffic delays on days you attend the office/ workplace.
Plan the week ahead with your nanny
Make some time on the final working day of each week to take stock: What has worked well, what not so well? Any changes to the routine or protocol needed? Note any important calls or upcoming meetings where it will be best for the children to be out of the house. How is the weather looking on that day? What alternatives are there if too wet for a park visit and you’d rather the children weren’t home on a particular day? Might there be a temporary alternative workspace available to you on occasions the children have a need to be at home and let off steam?
Above all keep the lines of communication open, be empathetic and sensitive to the new demands and challenges nannies encounter when building a partnership with parents working from home.
By working together, examining the logistics and ensuring clear communication - it is possible to make working days in the domestic domain run smoothly for everyone.