Parenting while working from home during Covid-19 is a new experience that doesn’t come with a training manual. Senior Associate (Strategy) at global design firm M Moser Associates, Elfreda Chan, shares her top tips for parenting during remote learning
Since March, the phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ has resonated as one of the most relevant themes in our world. Not only does this saying ring especially true for those working in medical and corporate industries, but it hits very close to home for parents like myself, who are scrambling to figure out how to best support their children as they learn in isolation from their friends and teachers.
While serving in the dual roles of workplace strategist at M Moser and parent while stationed at home, it struck me that many of the ideas we have developed for future workplace design can be transferred to distanced learning concepts to make the experience of working and learning together more enjoyable, safe, and efficient for everyone involved. I outline some of these ideas below.
The Need for Human Interaction
One thing that is essential is the need for social interaction — something that is hard to replicate when you are physically isolated. At M Moser, we’ve noticed that this has become a major point of consideration for us as we design workspaces for a post COVID-19 world. Interestingly enough, much of what we discuss with our clients can easily be translated into educational spaces. Similar to the latest thoughts around the future of the workplace, I anticipate education will move toward a permanently blended environment, or a mix of virtual and in-person classes. This blended educational experience will look slightly different for every age group. College students, for example, will likely benefit from having more areas for study groups, while a more classic lecture can easily remain virtual.
As for school-age children, the consensus among many parents I have spoken to is that Zoom calls work pretty well, but it’s the moments after the lessons that are proving to be the most challenging for kids. Pre-COVID, students could easily ask their teacher or friend a question. Now, it’s up to the parents to help answer those questions. In future school spaces for elementary students, it will be important to provide them with informal spaces, like couches and round tables (or even virtual break out rooms) where they can talk, play and feel comfortable asking their instructors or peers questions about lessons.
For the youngest of children, play time – which is an essential channel of learning for them – just isn’t the same alone as it is around other children. My toddler spent months at home with us, after which point we made the very difficult decision of sending him back to daycare to be with his teacher and friends a few days a week. This, as expected, has accelerated his new skills and gave him the social connection he needed.
In the future, this part-time attendance could mean greater daycare availability for other working parents. Here’s what I mean: in the workplace, we define our office space by a square footage per person measurement, which can now accommodate more individuals than accounted for in that measurement because not everyone is in the office at one time. Similarly in childcare, the measurement is based upon a teacher-to-child ratio. While that ratio could be maximised to the legal state limits – in California it is 1 : 6 — in fact, it could be as much as halved (1 : 3) because not all children would be there on any given day. Essentially, the same amount of space could potentially accommodate more people if they filter in and out.
The Desire to Build Barriers
In our lives before Covid-19, we had a distinct place to work or go to school, and time designated for rest as well as seeing friends or family. With no end to our remote lives in sight, it’s become critical to create barriers between personal and professional demands. The diminishing boundaries between work, play and rest are becoming more challenging for adults to accept, let alone children, so it’s crucial to schedule specific times for our kids to attend class, see friends (safely), play and relax.
A Yearning for Enhanced Safety
More so than ever before, people are going to require an enhanced level of safety, both physically and psychologically, and parents need to know that their children will be safe back in school. In the short term, schools can follow similar practices to those employed in workplaces to ensure safety, including increased ventilation and air flow, social distancing, masking, and a reduction in the number of people in one room.
As we continue to learn about the virus, we are developing new designs that help to mitigate the spread, such as introducing healthy materials that promote holistic wellbeing, upgraded HVAC systems to include ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) technology for sanitation, and for spaces that usually accommodate hundreds of people, optimal circulation width considerations to accommodate omnidirectional foot traffic should another pandemic arise. Fortunately, similar techniques are often transferrable to educational settings.
All of these design ideas can play a crucial role in helping individuals maintain connections and a sense of safety at work, school and at home. We have made great progress in the workplace design realm, and must continue adapting design solutions as the pandemic evolves.
All images by M Moser Associates and ©Emily Hagopian