How dual-career couples are navigating the lockdown

Leadership & Strategy Productivity & Work-Life Balance
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Our leaders share their family mantras for managing work and home – at home

Is it working-from-home or working-at-home? While to some this might seem like a matter of semantics, for many others, especially dual-career couples, figuring out the boundaries of work AND home over the last weeks has been especially challenging.

So, this week, I reached out to colleagues at our Group and asked them to share their reflections on how they are handling the current situation – as dual-career couplesHow do both partners continue to support each other and work productively from/at home? How do you avoid burnout and bring your best self to your family and work? 

Do read on.

Peter Mutinda – Head of Sales & Marketing(Labspec)

Let’s first clarify that WFH is a whole world different from WFHDLD (Work From Home During Lockdown) which involves housework, including cooking three meals a day, cleaning dishes (which seem to fill up the kitchen sink perennially), apart from home cleaning and of course, keeping your child engaged and entertained. This is how my partner  and I have tried to manage:

  • Everyone at home has to play the game: Share the load, with specific tasks
  • Clarify the role of each player basis proven expertise: If not, it can get confusing, messy, and take far more time to accomplish. My wife and our daughter are responsible for home cleaning and part washing of the dishes. I am responsible for cooking and washing dishes. By the way, our daughter does enjoy being given some responsibility and working alongside us! We often underestimate the engagement power of that!
  • Fix the time for each player to make a move – Just like all our official meetings are scheduled and followed to the tee basis our calendar, house work too has to be timed out to ensure neither office nor house work suffer! Have a strict break for lunch, as that’s the one that gets affected the most with a super busy calendar.
  • Be ready to interchange players’ roles as per necessity – There are times when I am in back to back meetings, or my wife is. That’s when we ensure that whoever is free takes on the extra load.
  • Take a break from the game – We do have our Friday night film time, karaoke jam session, and of course, family workout sessions for an hour every day given the severe lack of physical movement throughout the day, inside the home.

Paul Njenga, Head  Supply Chain (NCPL)

My wife, has always had her corner home office where she conducts her coaching practice and virtual meetings. However, even she was not prepared for the ‘home invasion’, which resulted from the kids and me being at home 24×7. The first few days went by in a whirlwind of frantic calls and readjustments, till the reality of the ‘new normal’ hit us, and we realized we needed a system to work this out in a harmonious manner.

Slowly a routine started to form – the dining table was my spot (close to the kitchen), and the home office was my wife’s. I would get to use it for really special meetings 🙂. Our Kids are grown up and were smart enough to keep out of our way while they dealt with online classes and college admissions fever. The fun started when we set up a 21-day challenge to learning something new, and suddenly everyone was excited by the prospect of making use of the time being locked down. I got my morning routine in order and joined the 5 AM club with a walk, meditation and yoga, while my daughter picked a new dance routine, my son a new piano piece, and my wife got busy with the study of a Sanskrit text. It also helped to lower anxiety levels with the constant bombardment of the pandemic.

I must admit, I really miss going out for grocery shopping with my wife. It was a lovely way to bond over fresh produce and a welcome release from home. We’ve come a long way from the initial days of chaos, raised voices and high tempers, and used the time to bond with each other, to adopt some new positive habits. And the perfect end to each day is our night routine when we express our gratitude.

Jane Waceke, Head – Human Resources (Godrech)

There is this saying that I identify with, ‘The happiest relationships never have the same character. They have the best understanding of their differences’. ‘Lockdown’ WFH is different from ‘Normal WFH’ as it has brought a new reality of absolute confinement, doing household chores – from the basic (sweeping) to advanced (cooking), taking care of kids and most importantly, working through an event that has impacted our country, business and organisation in ways that one could have never imagined. My learning on balancing during these times has been to become aware of the differences around me and work them in:

  • Allow for choice – My son likes to operate the washing machine, so he’s on laundry duty (#SharetheLoad), whereas my husband is figuring out how to reduce the turnaround time of cleaning dishes
  • Let go on some things – My husband will complete his chores as per his schedule, not mine, so take a breath and let go
  • Empathy – Each of my team members has a different schedule and responsibilities; it helps to talk about these and plan, especially when scheduling recurring meetings
  • It is remote, not stationary – I try and squeeze in 20 minutes of some physical exercise, morning or evening

I do want to say that it’s not all perfect, there are days when the calls don’t seem to end, when ‘mother’s guilt’ takes over as I can’t spend enough time with my son or I just want to pop a ‘Dinner’ pill and not cook it! But I also believe that mine is a privileged perspective, as I am not fending for food or shelter for my family, and hence I feel ever so grateful to be in this position.

Mark Bikache, Head – Group HR and Corporate Services

From being a little uncomfortable at the onset to now (I dare say) actually being quite comfortable as we enter week four, working from home has been quite an interesting experience! My partner  is a teacher, and taking classes online via Zoom for over 60 students at one go has been a new experience for her. Our son  just completed his standard 12 exams and has been preparing for entrance exams.

We have 2 laptops at home and there are days when we require laptops at the same time (10 AM-12 PM) – and that’s when we play a fun merry-go-round! Sonali uses Son’s to take her classes, Our son uses mine for his classes, and I use MS Teams on my mobile for calls. While earlier, we were aware of only one area in the house where the Wi-Fi signal was powerful, now we’ve found a few other nooks and corners. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention 🙂

When it comes to household chores, my wife usually takes care of cleaning and washing, while I manage the cooking and occasional dusting. However, on days when we are preparing some complex curry, I’m happy (and relieved) to let her don the mantle of head-chef! I’ve tried to keep up with some of my regular habits and routine. I start my mornings with yoga classes now online. And as a family too, we’ve found some exciting ways to bond during this period. Thrice a week, we catch up with different groups of family and friends over video calls and play dumb charades or discuss how our week has been. Not only has this been refreshing, but it has also allowed for some much-needed reflection and thinking, which we tend to miss out on otherwise.

Dr Nancy Anyango, Group Executive Director-Finance & Strategy

We have found that the key to a happy work from home is to treat it more like work place and less like home. My partner  is a data consultant  and was quite adept at remote working from the start. I like to get ready in the morning like I am heading for work. We ensure that we are in our designated rooms during the work hours and have enough space between us to not interfere in each other’s calls or get in each other’s way. Being in the US makes you a cook, willingly or unwillingly, so we share the meal responsibility depending upon our calendars for the day. Cooking for multiple meals at one time is also fairly common to get us through the week.

Our work demands different approaches, different intensities, and different schedules, and hence we have found that we only really get to meet each other at the end of the day, just like coming back from work. We quickly got into our 8 AM to 6 PM rhythm, and it just works!

Mary Wamboi, Head – Digital Marketing

The concept of working from home was never alien to Ndiemas, as we have a well laid out WFH policy, but doing this for many weeks altogether is something nobody could have imagined! I have to admit that I thought this would be easier, but a full-blown work day every day (work hours have also increased for sure) coupled with regular work at home – be it cooking three meals a day or doing dishes and cleaning up – has been quite challenging and taxing.

But my partner and I have now found a rhythm in our daily work. We’re grateful for our parents being at home at this point in time; they came visiting us last month. We religiously make full-fledged meals, and this has also given us time to cook together (I do about 60% of it). To be honest, I like cooking – and because of the situation, my partner has finally allowed me to use his beautiful designed home office. Lucky me! 🙂

Beyond all the crazy times, the best part is calling out to each other during the day. We look forward to our lunch and coffee breaks in the evening. Planning a meaningful break is something that came up very strongly post few days of lockdown, and it does help to break the monotony. He calls our travel time back home from work as a transition time from work mode to personal space mode, and while these days our transition time has disappeared, we proactively try to draw a distinction. We still look forward to our weekends to keep our regular rhythm going. We try to reserve Friday nights for some good food, a good single malt and good content. We catch up with friends on group video calls on Saturdays. And Sunday evenings are still reserved for taking the clothes out for our WFH Monday. 🙂

Allan Dodd, Associate Vice President – Sales & Marketing

Week 1 began with apprehensions as I had never worked from home, by choice, given that my two young ones failed to understand how mommy can work for office when she is home! While there have been many challenges and surprises, we’ve moved from utter chaos to organized chaos and learned many lessons along the way, some of them being:

  • I organize work calls so that either my spouse or I can step out to take care of children’s needs and give them time and attention, as they are equally alarmed by the changes in the environment
  • Distribute household chores between family members and stick to them like a schedule. For instance, my mother-in-law took charge of cooking, I of cleaning, and my husband looks after dusting the house, and we split looking after the children between us.
  • Find and share the “home office” space and stick to each other work zones – and also warn colleagues of some “voices” on calls beforehand
  • Taking a hard break after 7 PM to take care of kids and resuming work late night if required, as work can still be completed with some flexibility!
  • Staying connected with the team through a weekly virtual huddle helps to release the emotions. Be it through anecdotes, sharing new kitchen skills people have picked up, or just talking about how easy or difficult the week has been.

Even as we try to develop a better rhythm at managing this new norm of working and living, I must admit that I miss the human touch in random everyday interactions. Don’t get me wrong, of course, I love to be surrounded by my sons and husband 😊 – but I do miss an out-of-the-box conversation with a taxi driver regarding Indonesia politics; I miss a silly conversation with a seller in the traditional market close to my home and laughing with her about the fruit and beverage prices; I miss joke exchanges with silly body mimics – which made it so much more hilarious.

Many thanks to everyone who has shared their perspective so openly and generously. Clearly there’s no quick fix for any of us navigating this situation, but there are a few pointers that we can reflect on to share and partner better. Jennifer Petriglieri sums them up well in a recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘How Dual-Career Couples Can Work Through the Coronavirus Crisis’: 

1. What matters most to you in this period?

Of course your health and safety, and that of the people you love. But beyond that? Something particular at work? Something for your kids or parents? 

2. What is the relative priority of your careers over the coming months?

If you both work from home and have to double hat on home commitments with no help, how do you prioritise whose work comes first and when? What are your basic principles around this? 

3. What are your parenting principles during this period?

These are not easy times, and if you have children at home, you’ll need to be clear between yourselves and with them on how to approach this

4. What do you need from each other to make this all work?

Of course, you need support. But what does that really look like for you? How will you share and support each other?

5. What are the things concern you most?

There’s a lot of anxiety and flux and it will make you rethink priorities. So, talk openly about what your fears are. That’s the first step to addressing them.

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