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«Chiara, mummy has to work now»

COVID-19 is demanding quite a lot of parents. Most of them have to look after their children themselves – during working hours. What is the daily routine like for a mother of a small child, who is working from home for the Helvetia Service Center for the first time? Michela Montesano fills us in.

30 April 2020, text: Senada Kadic, photo: Michela Montesano

Employee with daughter working from home
Michela Montesano is currently working for the Helvetia Service Center from home. Always there too: her small daughter Chiara.

It was a strange feeling when we were told that as many people as possible should work from home due to the coronavirus. Especially for my team, because I have worked at the Service Center in Basel for around seven years, and up to this point we were not able to work from home. The concept was in the planning stages, but due to the coronavirus it had to be accelerated. The technology worked very well – but the worry remained: How were we to follow the instructions of the FOPH and at the same time look after our children and customers on the telephone?

Father at work, grandparents in the risk group

Today – after several weeks of working from home – I know that it can be done. I usually set up my workplace where my three-year-old daughter Chiara has lots of things to play with or access to the garden. Because on the two days I work I look after her on my own. My husband is a policeman and is working as normal. The grandparents, who would normally look after Chiara while I work, are in the risk group of «particularly vulnerable persons» due to their age, which is why I didn’t hesitate to decide not to send her to them any more.

Of course it’s not always easy at the moment. Once my daughter pulled the cable of my headset out of the laptop. I tell her «Chiara, mummy has to work now», but a three-year-old doesn’t always understand this. Right before Easter I found it all very stressful, because there were lots more calls about travel insurance, and my daughter demanded more and more of me. After a break at Easter, new things to play with and various tricks for keeping Chiara occupied, it’s now working much better. For example, she likes playing with Play-Doh and can occupy herself painting and colouring too for a while. I can now even work in my office sometimes, which is on the top floor of our house. Chiara then plays on her own downstairs. Of course everything is child-proofed, and I go downstairs frequently to check on her. A positive side-effect is that going up and down stairs is increasing my fitness level.

Understanding from all sides

In hindsight, everything turned out well for me: When I went back to work at 60% of a working week after my maternity leave it soon became too much. In particular the stress in the morning – getting Chiara up, dressing her, taking her to her grandparents, traffic jam, the rush – it all took its toll. I cut back my working hours and had asked if I could work from home on one day. A few months ago I wouldn’t have thought that it could work so well. I think it’s great how quickly IT and line managers reacted to make it possible – in order to protect the employees. I have to say that the customers and the team have all been very understanding. If I can’t do quite everything because of my daughter, everyone understands and nobody is annoyed.

All that took a huge burden off my shoulders in the past few weeks, and I am now more relaxed. And if I’m more relaxed, so is my daughter. I now like working from home. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, I would love to work from home one day a week and maybe increase my working hours again. Mummy working at home – Chiara would probably like that too. Now that we’ve got used to it. 

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