Work in the Time of COVID: Balancing Family, Work, and a Pandemic

July 29, 2020

While we are all undergoing a collective change, each person’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic is also incredibly personal. For Eric Maul, FST fiscal officer and father to two young children, it is an adjustment that has taken place in stages. Like many parents, the ease of each stage has been largely dependent on a factor outside Eric’s control—childcare.

In the first stage, the challenges he faced were mostly work related. “I started working at home [in March] and the kids were in daycare still,” Maul explained. Aside from checking in on a sick day, Eric had never worked from home before. “I burned out in like a week,” he said, “It’s so easy to just keep working when there are fewer distractions.” Messaging from the College was an important part of accepting this new reality and adjusting to an at-home workday. “I really appreciated the messaging coming from the Dean early on about how working at home is going to look a little different and that’s okay. Productivity is going to look different and that’s okay.” That reassurance helped Eric find a better balance while working from home.

Once he found his rhythm in the workday, Maul found himself in a new phase with different challenges. “My wife had some symptoms and was tested. It took 12 days to get her results back and we had the kids home. We were all quarantined at home together during that phase,” Eric said. Waiting 12 days for the results was nerve-wracking for the family. “All we could do was stay home. We had to have groceries delivered and we just waited.”

With the health hurdles behind them, the family entered the next stage. Phase 3 would prove the hardest. “After my wife had gone back to work and the daycare was still closed, it was me parenting two kids, 3 and 5, and working all day. That was easily the most difficult part of all of this,” Eric said. Flexibility was critical with his son and daughter home. “I would take the laptop wherever I needed to go.” Even while trying to be as flexible as possible, patience ran thin at times. “I wasn’t always my best self,” Eric admitted with a laugh. Phase 3 lasted about two months, but they made it through no worse for the wear.

The Maul family pandemic is now in Phase 4: Eric working from home, his wife back at work on site, and the kids back to daycare. “I was still hesitant when daycares opened back up. Did we want to be part of the first people group of people to send our kids back?” Maul explained. In conversations about their next steps, Eric’s wife made some strong points and they agreed to send the kids back to daycare. “Once the kids went back, I burned out again in like a week. I had to re-learn how to work at home by myself. I still have the occasional day where I forget to eat more than once.” Now that he is back into a groove in his home office, he has come to value aspects of working at home. “I think it’s provided a flexibility in the day that I really appreciate in these times.” Eric is hopeful for increased flexibility with work from home in the future, “I think the pandemic has really opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibilities of working at home.”

Eric can find other silver linings to this unprecedented time as well. Technology has helped him bridge gaps in and outside the office. The CFAES lead fiscal officers have gotten together for regular Zoom happy hours, something they had not done before. “We never had a regular standing thing and it’s brought us together as a more collective group.” He hopes they will continue to meet regularly. Using similar technology, the Mauls had several game nights with family who live out of state. “I have siblings in Pittsburgh and Colorado. Why didn’t I stay in better contact with them before this?”, Eric questioned. Sometimes the solution only finds us when the situation forces it.

What is the next phase for Eric Maul? When asked about the future, he is cautious and quick to remind me that the pandemic is not over. “In March, so many people were just thinking ‘what is this going to be, a couple weeks?’ It has been longer than any of us thought. Now, with the way it is going, I don’t see any end in sight.” He continued, “Looking back on this time will depend on how pandemic turns out.” While Ohio tries to balance some return to normalcy with rising COVID-19 cases, the future remains unclear. One thing is certain, Eric and parents throughout the state will keep a close eye on the State mandates for childcare.