How a mum of two conquers the home-office – Tips for ALL remote workers

During the Coronavirus pandemic many of us have taken measures to distance ourselves from others, Finiata’s employees included. Home office can be a productivity boost, but not all of us have an oasis of silence at home. More people than you’d think actually prefer to work at the office, like our Product Manager Zulfiya. We asked her about her experience of working remotely with two schoolchildren at home. 

Q: Finiata has always been quite generous, when it comes to offering remote working opportunities for their employees. Before we all started to work from home due to the Coronavirus, have you worked from home on a regular basis and how did you find it?

I have experience working remotely during my previous job and to be honest, I feel much more productive when I´m in the office. For some people it can be challenging to work from home on a  regular basis as you can completely lose the difference between your working and non-working hours, for example you chat with your friends during the day-time or cook or make your dishes and as consequence you find yourself writing work-related emails in the middle of the night or suddenly inspired, turn on the laptop and fix this bug immediately after your kids fall asleep.  

In general, I prefer working from the office and before the Corona crisis I have worked from home only occasionally. I like to be in our Berlin office, having a comfortable desk, seeing my colleagues and feeling office vibes. I have a strong belief in collocated teams and prefer to have refinement or brainstorming sessions on-site.

In case you need to work from home I would suggest to follow some of these rules:

  • Organise your workplace. Ideally, you have a separate room you enter just to work. If not, have a desk with a normal working place organised, a comfortable chair and monitor. 
  • Wear formal clothes during working hours. It prevents you from spending too much time at the kitchen and as an extra-bonus: your colleagues on the video calls won’t be shocked by your look without pants.
  • Ideally, have a separate computer for work. If you don’t – make a different account. Don’t try to make your tax declaration when you have a break between the meetings in the same browser as you have your Jira tickets open. Usually, it doesn’t help to improve your taxes and your tickets.
  • Follow your working schedule. If you have to spend one hour or two during the day on some urgent topics – make yourself unavailable and catch up exactly the same amount of hours in the evening (“stay longer at work”).
  • Remove Slack and work email from your phone, don’t check them after-hours.

Q: You are a mother of two schoolchildren and work full time as a Product Manager. Are there any tips or best practices you can share for working parents?

When I started my job after a long maternity leave I have never felt happier and it turned out that going back to work helped me to spend more quality time with my kids. Your work is not a sacrifice you make and having children doesn’t give you an excuse for being less productive. 

My tip: don’t hide your work from your children, show them what you do, talk about your work and explain it at least in simple terms. My children know my colleagues by their names, have seen some of them in person and especially enjoyed hot chocolate and playing Playstation in our office. 

Zulfiya’s kids exploring the office whiteboard

On the other hand, it is important to manage expectations with your colleagues and draw the line where your time should be respected. I always leave the office at 5 pm, it is a rule and everyone knows that. Fortunately, I am not a doctor and other people’s lives don’t depend on me, so for me, it is ok to leave all urgent things behind and be on time for the school closure. It is also ok to be online after that and catch up later when the children go asleep. Flexibility is the clue and it works both ways. 

Q: How do you handle the current situation working from home and homeschooling your kids at the same time? 

First of all, let’s not call it homeschooling. It is a critical situation, an emergency and unpredicted scenario we all experience. I didn’t choose a homeschooling path for my kids on my own, I have to tackle this and no one is prepared – including the schools. It is surprising how the German school system turned out to be badly digitised. Friends from Ukraine, Poland or Spain share their school experience and it looks much better, they have online classes from the first week of the lockdown, we normally just receive tons of tasks to be finished by the end of the week.

On the first day of lockdown, we sat together as a family and created an anti-crisis plan. We have listed all the things we are still allowed to do and find it acceptable for us – like ordering from the restaurants online, cycling, and all the different activities children can do for their education and for entertainment. 

Now every morning we create a schedule for the day where we fill all the meetings me and my husband have and then split the time accordingly. We have “daddy hour”, “mummy hour”, “30 mins with grandma” on the call (which is actually very helpful!), some hours children do their own activities (their drum and ballet lessons have moved to Skype and Zoom) and they have two hours of entertainment time when they can watch TV (mostly during the core working hours when we have meetings).

I know that many parents are frustrated that schools send a lot and require an enormous effort from the parents. However, I believe that in primary school their education won’t suffer if they skip even two months of a school programme.

We do here the minimum required and we focus on what kids like. If they like Minecraft, let them get obsessed with that and express their creativity on that topic. Free play lets your kids explore their imagination and the things around them and they will surprise you by unexpected things they learned by that. 

The main struggle for me as a Product Manager is to find time for focus. Nature of my work implies multitasking and context switching, but now it is multiplied with home distraction. When you hear “mum” 100 times per hour, it is almost impossible to produce anything meaningful at the same time. 

The truth is that the schedule doesn’t work all the time, and kids may just start fighting in the middle of your standup and yelling to each other. Fortunately, my team understands that and supports me.

It is also important that you have to stay sane during this time and take care of yourself. What helps me is cycling several times per week around the city. We have a virtual club in Strava and the progress of my colleagues motivates me to leave the house, take my bike and clear my mind when riding. 

Q: Finiata is on the mission to make the company more attractive for female employees, what would you say, why should they join Finiata?

Finiata is a family-friendly employer in general and has always been very flexible with the working time so I never had to skip any of the school activities like concerts or winter parties where children expect both parents to come. I can always rely on the support from the management as long as I fulfil the expectations. I can also freely bring my children to the office when the school is closed a couple of times per year. Once we had three children in the office at the same time and everyone was very friendly and helpful. 


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