Alpha Agency founder Valerie Martin was as ready as anyone to run her business — a public relations, public affairs and communications consulting firm — from home.
Martin has worked at home since 2002 and done so with two kids since 2005, long before the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
“I use them in a way as partners in my business,” Martin said of her children.
Martin’s work has grown more demanding as her sons have grown into their teens, expanding into crisis, litigation and corporate communications with clients such as agribusiness giant Syngenta. Half a dozen subcontractors help Martin, who served as Gov. Arne Carlson’s press secretary and Minnesota Supreme Court communications manager before launching her company.
Martin is fielding enough questions from clients about working remotely that helping companies help their employees make the transition could become a new service. Here are some tips from Martin and her sons on managing work, homework and family life all under one roof, and Martin’s thoughts on crisis communications in a pandemic:
Q: How do you work from home with kids?
A: It boils down to two key concepts: time management and flexibility. On time management, I’m a big fan of working opposite your kids’ natural schedules. Get up at the crack of dawn to get a head start on your day by the time they have breakfast. In terms of flexibility, I counsel for sequenced blocks of time rather than rigid schedules. The kids have blocks of responsibility (chores, homework, pet care, exercise) that have to be completed before free time. Parents can use those blocks to dig in on their workday.
Q: What’s your management style as a parent?
A: I use a form of Agile for parenting. We do a stand-up [meeting] over breakfast each day even when they’re attending physical school. I go over what I have to do for the day, my appointments and theirs. They know my critical times and they know their responsibilities. The worst thing you can do is get the kids up and try to freestyle it because they take advantage of your poor planning.
Q: What else works?
A: One thing the kids and I talk about a lot is you have to expect the unexpected. My day and the kids’ days will go off the rails. When it’s my day that’s been derailed, I talk to them immediately to let them know what’s happening and why. When they have an unexpected need for help with homework, sorting out a sibling battle or some kind of emotional implosion, I hit pause on work and take care of it. I always have the luxury to stay up late or get up early to get work back on track.
Q: In terms of crisis communications, what needs to be done differently now?
A: I’m seeing a lot of slick CEO messages that don’t say a damn thing. Almost every organization is doing something to try to help their employees or the community. Talk about that in your messages. Acknowledge that this is a scary time but provide some structure and insight into decisions you’re making right now and how you’re trying to prepare for the future. Behind the scenes, check in with your biggest customers and strongest allies for their survival ideas and opportunities they’re seeing.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is email@example.com.