The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted all of our lives, but new studies show that it has uniquely affected parents—especially working parents.
Workers with young children who do not have a family caregiver comprise at least 20 percent of the workforce. With thousands of U.S. school districts beginning the academic school year remotely and daycares closed, parents are working 40-hour-a-week jobs while also providing 40 hours of childcare and schooling per week. This, coupled with the overall emotional and financial challenges the pandemic has caused, has left millions of working Americans scrambling and has triggered stress levels that surpass those observed during the Great Recession.
You may have set out to work on your own in the first place because doing so offers unique opportunities to leverage your strengths, choose how and when you work, and undertake projects that are aligned with your interests. Despite the challenges COVID-19 presents for working parents, as an independent consultant, you are arguably in an enviable position to reclaim some of the control over your days—and career—that the pandemic has usurped.
You don’t have to press pause on your independent consulting business. Here are five ways consulting talent with children can stay ahead during this challenging time.
5 Tips for Working Parents During COVID-19
Evaluate all of your options
In large part due to globalization, changing demographics, and innovation in the workplace, the days of having to choose between a traditional full-time role or staying home with children are behind us. Today, working as an independent professional is a third option that offers an array of flexible and dynamic career opportunities.
As top companies engage consultants from a distance to take on critical work during COVID-19, independent consultants have an opportunity to choose work that’s aligned with your availability and interest. Right now, it may make sense to take on a short-term project, or one that starts a few weeks after school begins and your children are in a routine. By customizing your BTG preferences to reflect your preferred industries, types of projects, location, and length of assignment, you can handcraft a career path that’s aligned with your priorities and availability.
As economist Emily Oster has said, “we can’t improve the lot of parents at work if we pretend we aren’t parents.” “Secret parenting,” as Oster calls it, is not just bad for working parents, but also for employers who want to retain you.
Be authentic. Tell clients exactly what they can expect while working with you, and try to see your availability as advantageous rather than a handicap. Do you work early in the morning Eastern time and have projects with California-based companies? Your ability to turn around work left over from the day before prior to 9 a.m. PST could make you a tremendous asset to a busy West Coast team. Be open with your clients about your childcare responsibilities, and chances are they will respect you even more for it.
Take three small steps
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. Even if you’ve decided to step away from large projects right now, you can use this time to take small steps that build your brand, position you as a thought leader, or increase your online presence. List five small steps you can take to advance your career and devote one week to completing them. Do this for several weeks in a row and you may be surprised to see how much traction you’ve gained. Some ideas to get you started include:
- Streamlining your online presence across social channels
- Finding three articles you can share on LinkedIn along with some insight
- Updating your BTG talent profile
Plant seeds today so you can reap them tomorrow.
Continue growing your network
Human connection may be more important now than it ever has been before. With conferences across the globe cancelled or taking place virtually, now is a good time to examine how you can expand your network from behind your computer so you’re well positioned when the pandemic is behind us.
If you attend an online professional conference, Zoom college reunion, or virtual happy hour with old friends, follow up afterward with people who could be beneficial additions to your professional network. Invite them to join you for a virtual coffee break in which you can continue building a relationship with them.
Be realistic and creative
Studies show that it takes approximately 23 minutes to refocus each time you are interrupted while working. To limit the distractions you experience with children at home:
- Try garnering work that can happen asynchronously. This can give you the freedom to work for larger chunks of time outside of the traditional work week when you aren’t also trying to navigate Google Classroom.
- Rethink your work-from-home arrangement. If you have someone who can watch your children, maybe there is a safe, quiet office close to your house that you can rent for a few hours at a time.
- When accepting new work, remember that the ability to be there for your clients — and your families — when they need you the most was potentially one of the reasons you chose to work independently in the first place. Say ‘no’ to opportunities that are not a perfect fit for you right now, or consider saying ‘yes’, but with defined parameters around what works best for you.
Working from home with kids is challenging. Exploring options you haven’t before may help.
Upskill or pivot
Consider pivoting or growing your skillset in a way that that’s aligned with the demands and challenges companies are facing during this time. Maybe you’re an HR leader who specializes in change management and would like to expand your skill set so you can help companies specifically with digital transformation. General Assembly offers hundreds of online courses, as well as free workshops and resources that could help you advance your professional and personal development.
BTG’s mission is to bring together the world’s top companies and independent professionals to enhance business performance and improve people’s lives. By taking advantage of the benefits that working independently unlocks, there may just be an opportunity to solve your clients’ biggest problems while making your life easier and better at the same time.
Sheri is a strategic communications leader with more than 15 years of experience writing content for some of the world's leading brands. She is the founder of a Certified B Corporation that's committed to helping companies achieve their mission by leveraging content as a force for good. She is also a runner, aspiring sommelier, traveler, and mom—usually all at once.