Balancing work and home life

One of the biggest issues the public sector faces across Australia is how to balance work and home life.

Woman working at a desk looking at her phone and computer screen

Whether you have a family, live alone, share a house, or are a carer, finding a balance between your work and your home can be difficult. We have a range of ideas and tips to help you.

Separating work and private

We use a set of ‘signals’ to tell us whether we are ‘at home’ or ‘at work’. Recreating these signals when working out of the office helps switch between ‘work you’ and ‘home you’. For example:

  • We go to other places and see other people. During the COVID-19 crisis this isn’t as easy, but you can still speak to your co-workers and team-mates. Hearing someone else’s voice over the phone is good, but it is better to use video. For example:
    • An agency set up a ‘buddy’ system so their staff could meet colleagues they hadn’t spoken to.
    • A few agencies use chat software. Staff find they are interacting with colleagues they don’t normally speak to.
    • Many agencies have introduced social video conferences to replace face-to-face catch-ups.
  • We travel to and from work. People suggested different approaches for creating a break between ‘home’ and ‘work’, to signal work time is over:
    • going for a walk
    • sitting down and reading a book
    • doing some study
    • packing equipment away or closing the door on your office

These actions tell our brains to turn off ‘work’ mode and turn on ‘home’ mode.

Balancing work and family life

The best advice I’ve got is not to try too hard at the moment with the kids. Try things like educational games, cartoons in different languages, outdoor play. Keep the brain ticking.

family of parent and two children outside working and playing at a table

Most parents who send their children to school did not anticipate the pressure of homeschooling them at the start of 2020.

The most important advice coming from educators is to relax. There are many simple things you can do with your child to keep them learning without increasing stress.

  • Use technology and have a friend or relative read to them for 30 minutes over a video conference.
  • Use the range of great educational games available online.
  • Take advantage of the ABC’s educational programming.

Create a family routine

Routine is important for you and your family. Everyone in the family, including children, can develop a routine. Display them so everyone knows what is happening at any time.

Some tips from other APS employees include:

  • For 2-parent households, take turns being the ‘point’ parent. The point parent works out in the open and deals with children and other interruptions. The the other parent locks themselves away to work. You can also take shifts, with 1 parent on the morning shift, and 1 on the afternoon.
  • Work odd hours. Start early, take a long break in the middle of the day, then work again in the evening.
  • Make the most of nap time and get as much done as you can.
  • Schedule time during the day when you focus on your children. Some parents find there are less disruptions during the day if there are set times your children have your full attention.

Living and working with housemates

Two housemates working from home together at a table indoors

If several people need to work from home, it helps to have agreed work-zones. This can include places like the dining table, the lounge, or an outside area. Agree on these areas with your housemates, and at what times each of you need to use them.

Some tips for sharing workspaces at home include:

  • Pack up your things at the end of the day to keep shared spaces tidy.
  • Wipe down surfaces after you use them.

Security

If you are working in a shared workspace and you must leave your computer, make sure you lock your computer and keep your information safe.

Living with someone who has lost their job

The COVID-19 crisis has caused many people to lose their jobs. If you are living with someone who is out-of-work, there is likely to be financial pressure, stress, and potential mental health issues. Services Australia has information for people whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19. There is also information on Australia.gov.au.

Living and working alone during restrictions

person working alone on computer screen

While you may enjoy your own company and the freedom to work as you choose, self-isolation might start to feel overwhelming if you live alone. You don’t normally spend all your time by yourself — you come to work, and you catch-up with family and friends.

Make sure you stay in touch with others to prevent loneliness. An idea from an APS employee is to book morning coffee or after-work drinks over video conference to keep in touch with work friends. It can also help to begin and end your workday.

Supporting your community can also help your mental health. You can find some great ideas on the Internet, such as the Kindness Project. Put a teddy bear in your window for the bear hunt. Look for your community on the Internet or social media and see what other things you can contribute to.

Reach out

This is a difficult time for many people. It can be particularly hard for people who do not have the support of a partner, caring for a loved one, or facing the added pressure of a difficult or dangerous domestic situation.

If you know someone in difficult circumstances — a single parent, a child with special needs, caring responsibilities, family in conflict or affected by domestic violence — then reach out to them more often. Please contact the human resources team in your organisation if you are worried about a colleague.

If you are in this situation, reach out to your human resources team for support. Have your employee assistance program details so you can contact them when you need extra support.

The eSafety Commissioner has some advice on how to keep yourself safe in a domestic violence situation.

If you are in Australia and you feel unsafe right now, call the police on Triple Zero (000) or contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

If you require mental health support, here are some places to start:

Coming next

This is the second in a series of blogs we have planned to help you negotiate this new way of working. If you have any suggestions or ideas for future blogs, tips on working remotely or from home, or feedback please share with remoteworking@dta.gov.au.