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Striking a strategic balance between personal and professional demands, while working from home, is a challenge for many. And in a recent survey by personal finance company Credit Karma, it was revealed that these hardships are affecting the majority of working parents, at 62 percent, who feel they need to compromise their careers to accommodate the changing needs of educating their kids from home — and the firm is here to help.

Here, Colleen McCreary, chief people officer and financial advocate at Credit Karma, talks to WWD about professional wellness, financial fitness, and making the most of working from home.

WWD: How does Credit Karma promote and support financial fitness for consumers? How are its services differentiated in the market?

Colleen McCreary: Credit Karma builds tools for every step of a consumer’s financial journey — that can mean anything from opening a savings account to help your money grow over time, choosing the right credit card for your spending habits, comparing mortgage rates to buy your dream home and much more. Our members can see free personalized offers and recommendations on their profiles to help them improve their credit and work toward achieving their financial goals — whether that is a new home, a new car or saving for another financial milestone.

Every person deserves the chance to build a better financial future for themselves. The insights, tips and tools we share with each of our 110-plus million members help them achieve their financial goals. And Credit Karma is free, and always will be.

WWD: Time management has become a real challenge for consumers during the coronavirus pandemic. Would you elaborate on some of the ways consumers can overcome this hurdle and work from home more effectively?

C.M.: Since the start of the pandemic, many people have been forced to reevaluate how they spend every hour of each day.

The very first step is to establish a routine for you and anyone in your household. There’s a lot of research that shows how structure and a consistent schedule is good for both children and adults to function efficiently.

Once you’ve found a routine that works, set expectations with your team. It’s up to you to share how you think you’ll be able to continue to deliver at your job while also tend to anything at home. Setting these boundaries with your team and colleagues will let you by a parent or family member when you need to be there for your family, and professional while at work. The more you can communicate, the better off you’ll be.

And it’s important to remember that your routine should evolve as needed and isn’t set in stone. You can test different routines and scenarios for yourself to see how to find the best balance between your personal life and professional life.

WWD: Are there any useful methods for setting boundaries — both personal and professional — while working from home?

C.M.: Our competing priorities have always existed, yet they seem more difficult to manage in an increasingly remote world. Remote work isn’t a new concept — it’s that, at the start of the pandemic, many of us had to quickly shift to working from home all at once. Most companies didn’t have ample time to prepare to have their workforce shift to remote working, and many didn’t expect this to go on as long as it has.

Those who are fortunate enough to have the option to work remotely are having to navigate a new set of challenges. This includes everything from negotiating small spaces with roommates and family members and making sure your Wi-Fi connection is strong enough to withstand the seemingly endless stream of video meetings for everyone in the house. These challenges can add up quickly, making it very difficult for employees to establish a clear work-life balance.

This is especially true for parents who are now having to assume the role of teacher and caretaker, in addition to their regular nine-to-five. This is putting a strain on many households and, in the most extreme cases, is costing working parents their careers.

In fact, according to a recent survey from Credit Karma, the majority (62 percent) of working parents feel they need to compromise their careers to accommodate the changing needs of educating their kids from home. This is likely driven by the fact that many working parents say they don’t have flexibility in their workdays to accommodate at-home education for their kids and are having to extend their workdays outside of traditional work hours as a result.

Here’s how I think about setting boundaries and having tough conversations at work:

  • Build a schedule that benefits you, your family and your team. There’s a ton of research that proves structure and routine are good for us. Use what you’ve learned about working remotely over the last few months to map out what your ideal day looks like. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it should help you visualize the best way to balance your work and home life. From there, you’ll have something more concrete to share with your manager about how you’d like to structure your workday. Perhaps it means you schedule every other hour with flexibility in between, support project work in the evenings or the weekends.
  • Prepare yourself and your manager ahead of the conversation. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to come prepared. I always recommend writing down your main talking points and even mapping out a flow chart of potential outcomes. This will help you prepare for best and worst-case scenarios. Also, when scheduling this discussion, be sure to give your manager a heads up on the topic so they know what to expect. This limits the chance of them feeling caught off guard and gives them the opportunity to come prepared with possible solutions.
  • Provide solutions that demonstrate value for the business. If you can, think through solutions that could benefit you, your team, and the business. For example, is there a project you could give to someone else on your team that would help them develop professionally while freeing up your time to work on something less time- and screen-intensive? Ultimately, it’s in your employer’s best interest to know what your schedule and workload look like so they can properly scope projects and distribute work.
  • Start small and ask for a trial period. From there, test, learn and adjust. If your manager is hesitant to make permanent changes to your work schedule, ask if they’d be willing to do a trial period to see how this new way of working impacts you and your team. This will allow you to tailor your schedule to your needs while demonstrating how it works for the company. Also, I can’t stress this enough: communicate. If something is not working early on, talk to your manager and make changes quickly.

WWD: Is there any other advice you can share from a financial standpoint regarding consumers’ financial wellness during the pandemic? What can consumers do differently to stabilize their finances?

C.M.: Track your spending and keep a budget. Now more than ever, it’s so important to keep a closer eye on your spending and saving habits and to stick to a monthly budget. Whether you’re setting aside money for necessities like groceries and rent or trying to build savings — know where you stand, and then create a realistic budget you and your family are willing to stick to.

Know where you stand financially and check on that frequently. Do a quick audit of your finances to see if you need to be changing your spending and saving habits. Look at all your expenses — think, groceries, insurance, mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, and anything you pay on a regular basis. And, look at every source of income you have. Before the coronavirus pandemic, you may have budgeted a couple of weeks or a month in advance. Now, given the uncertainty, you should map out your projected expenses over the coming three, six and nine months. And, make it a point to do this regularly — set aside time in your calendar each week or month to review your finances and adjust accordingly.

If you think you’ll be returning to the office in the near future, prepare for those expenses. If you have been working from home over the last year, you may have forgotten about certain work-related expenses like parking, gas, bridge tolls and more — if you think you’re returning to the office in the close future, make sure to budget for those expenses so you aren’t caught off guard when the time comes.

Be proactive and take action when possible. Be an advocate for yourself, immediately! If you have no money left to pay your rent or bills like your credit card, don’t wait to contact your landlord or issuer to see what your options are. If you can defer payments at this time, take advantage of that option until you’re able to pay. The same thing applies to some personal loans. Be an advocate for yourself.

Allow yourself to use your emergency fund if you need it. The pandemic has many people dipping into their emergency fund, which is what it is for! If you’re struggling to make minimum payments on debt or recurring payments like rent, but you have money in your emergency fund, allow yourself to use it so you don’t find yourself in the red financially.

WWD: What’s next for Credit Karma? 

C.M.: As it relates to remote work, more broadly, we expect this sense of flexibility to continue. As things revert back to “normal,” there are a number of factors to consider before every employee can come back into the office cares — things like childcare, schools being in session and general health of our employees and their families. So, we’re keeping a close eye on how we’re tracking the pandemic and what the next steps are for our employees.

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