lab-life balance during covid
As a biotech company, our doors have remained open to provide support and a research tool pipeline for scientists on the front lines of the crisis. As an employee, this stability was welcome. But like most parents amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the restrictions put on my life have made for tough choices, self-reflection, and re-evaluation of lifestyle.
From the very beginning, PhosphoSolutions took various steps to ensure the physical well-being of our team during this time: reconfiguration of lab spaces, staggered hours, and personal protective equipment. But as a working parent, by far the largest upset I faced was the loss of childcare and school. The question in my family was no longer who would be picking up my young daughters from school/dance/soccer/piano/grandma’s house. The question was now: What hours Mommy can responsibly be out of the house and in the lab while still allowing Daddy to complete his very demanding job in his work-from-home office, all the while considering the need to homeschool our daughters on top of facilitating soccer training videos sent by their coach, helping with the virtual classes sent by piano, art, and dance teachers, and procuring toilet paper.

Amy ArchuletaMany working parents already struggle with work-life balance and guilt, and the lock-down magnified this guilt and questioning 10-fold: Am I doing enough for my kids? Should I continue my work knowing that I am contributing to the greater good of scientific discovery during an international health crisis? Should I quit my job to be fully present while my kids need me? Am I putting my family’s health at risk by coming into the lab? Is my uncertainty and stress obvious to my kids? Why are people hoarding toilet paper? Maybe I should start hoarding toilet paper?

And then, there was new guilt: Should I even be complaining? I am very fortunate to still have my health and my job.

As the parents on our team settled into staggered work schedules to accommodate new responsibilities and situations, several things started to become clear.

The positives: The concentrated hours alone in the lab helped enhance focus and productivity and provided a respite from the intense challenges of home schooling. My leaving the house before anyone else was out of bed allowed my daughters to manage their morning routine on their own, increasing their resourcefulness – but resulting in decidedly less-healthy breakfasts. With less bench work to do, I was able to move some of my efforts to bigger-picture initiatives which often take a back seat when antibodies need to be purified immediately. My family loved the increased amount of time we spent together and began to wonder why we had embraced such a crazy-busy lifestyle pre-Covid. With reduced traffic, my commute time was almost cut in half. The grocery store finally had a 4-pack of off-brand TP.

The negatives: I felt overwhelmed by the vastly increased life-demands of home schooling and the subsequent family reorganization and administration. There were increased challenges in collaboration in the lab due to social distancing guidelines and the varying schedules of my colleagues. After 10 weeks of home schooling, I was losing my enthusiasm and energy, and worried that my lack of attention would negatively impact my girls’ education. The grocery store STILL didn’t have Charmin, Cottonelle, or Quilted Northern.

Then summer arrived.
Day 1: I dismantled the homeschool desk that had become the focal point of our living room. I already felt freer.
Week 1: With the end of home schooling, I began to feel less torn between the demands of the lab and the demands of my home life. My daughters began to learn more self-reliance and self-entertainment. But I still had guilt – it felt strange to be in the lab while the rest of my family was at home.
Month 1: Everyone is happier. The lab is humming with increased orders and antibody production and testing. My family is discovering just how much there is to do in and around our house – if you invent the fun. The big picture initiatives for the company that I focused on during the total lockdown are taking root and bearing fruit. The grocery store is fully stocked with ALL the brands of TP!

As the fall and the new school year approaches, there is no doubt that the uncertainty we all feel will be magnified again. We will again have to rebalance and prioritize. I’m pretty sure it will be difficult, but I’m pretty sure that it will be less of a shock. I’m pretty sure that we will be able to more quickly implement some of the strategies that were so painfully learned from March-May. And I’m pretty sure that there will be toilet paper.

Further Reading:
Read posts from our founder Dr. Mike Browning. His decades of experience developing and using antibodies will give you insights into your own work.
Read posts from our scientists. Learn tips and tricks from the bench, and ideas for troubleshooting your own experiments.