Tips For Working From Home While The Kids Are Stuck At The House
Today, many working parents are facing an unprecedented situation: working from home with kids as access to schools, camps, babysitters and playdates are limited. More and more workplaces are allowing or requiring remote work, while school and daycare closings and “social distancing” restrictions mean that families are suddenly spending a whole lot more time together at home.
Now, let’s face it, kids are inherently unpredictable, so your day will unlikely be smooth or perfect, but there are a few strategies you can use to make your new working situation a little easier. Our entire company works from home and in this blog post we are sharing our real-world tips to help balance your career and children in close proximity and to help you through this difficult moment while you transition to your new normal.
Communication is, of course, an essential part of any job. In-person or remote, letting your boss and your team know what you’re working on and what you’re struggling with can help make your job a little easier.
But, when you add kids to the mix, suddenly work isn’t as straightforward as it has been in the past. Make sure you let your employer know that you’ve got kids at home and that you can’t guarantee every conversation will be interruption-free. With any luck, you can work flexibly so you can help your kids when they need it and work when they’re occupied.
Also, make sure that when you’re speaking with anyone—inside or outside your company—you give them a heads up at the beginning of the call. This way, if an interruption occurs in the background of a meeting or important call, it doesn’t come as a surprise to participants.
Create a Schedule
It's important to line up your day carefully, with set "office" hours. How many hours do you hope to work that day? When will you return calls? What can you accomplish while your son or daughter is coloring or watching TV in the next room? While your kids are at home, you will get much more done by working smarter not harder.
That said, one of the best benefits of working at home is flexibility, especially if you are your own boss. If your son or daughter is struggling during your office hours and it's a beautiful day, it's okay to push assignments aside and play outside. You can catch up on work later when your little one has settled.
If you have an employer, talk to them and work on an agreement for how many hours per day you should be online and reachable while working from home. Given today’s necessity of working at home, some employers may understand the need for non-traditional schedules while you balance kids and work.
Set Boundaries For Your Kids
Once you’ve talked to your employer about your at-home situation, you’ll need to explain to your kids what’s up, and that means establishing boundaries. Start with a conversation that working from home means “working.” As much as you or they might like, you can’t hang out all hours of the day.
Have a family meeting and explain how work works. Let your kids know that you have certain tasks that you must accomplish, and you can’t take frequent breaks to help them. Explain that when the door to your office is closed, they have to knock before they come in. And, if there’s a “do not disturb” sign on the door, that means they can’t knock on the door. Instead, suggest they slide a note under the door or text you with any questions.
Also, explain that once you’re done with whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll come out and check on them. But until that happens, they need to either wait for you or solve the problem themselves.
Reward Good Behavior
Establishing boundaries is just the start. You also need to acknowledge and reward good behavior. For example, if you have younger kids that require a lot of attention before you start a meeting, let them know what’s happening and that you can’t be interrupted. Help them start a quiet puzzle or coloring project, and let them know that you’ll check back shortly. Steer kids toward more calm, relaxing activities.
If your kids do interrupt you, be sure to stay calm. You may need to stop what you’re doing and lead them away or even deal with the problem. But, once you’ve handled the situation and finished your work, have another discussion with your kids. Explain to them that when they leave you alone, it helps you do a better job, so you need their help so you can do the best work possible. And remember, taking 5-10 minutes away from a work project to help guide your little ones towards another activity is fine. That project will still be there when you finish handling your kids.
For those times when your kids don’t interrupt you, reward them. Give them lots of praise, and thank them for their help. Spend some extra time with them and read a book or play a game. Make sure they know that they did a good job by letting you get your work done.
Take More Breaks Than Usual
If your kids have schoolwork to do, that’s helpful. They’ll be occupied for some of the time they’re at home. But school doesn’t typically last the entire workday. And if your kids don’t have school, you probably can’t arrange playdates or excursions. In either case, you’ll need to find creative ways to occupy and keep an eye on your kids.
Start with scheduling frequent breaks in your day. Instead of sitting down and working on a task for three hours, break up your day a bit more. Work for 30 or 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break to hang out with your kids. You can help them with tasks, or you can have a 10-minute high energy activity (like a dance party or game of tag) to get their energy out and to keep you energized.
Pre-Plan Your Children’s Activities
Not having to spend your working hours coming up with activities can mean the difference between getting a project done or not, so try to come up with things your children can do before it’s ten minutes from the start of a meeting, and they want to play AND eat AND watch TV at the same time.
One idea you can plan in advance is to create weekly activity boxes. This is sort of like meal prepping but with activities rather than food. Fill the boxes with activities that the kids can do on their own. Create “theme” boxes and label them, so the kids have some choices. Art projects, glitter projects, or even creating a family tree are all possibilities. Just make sure they’re age-appropriate and contain activities that require minimal help from you.
Sometimes It’s Ok To Bend The Rules
During “normal” times, you might monitor your children’s screen time and even limit it. But working from home with kids during an emergency is different. While you probably don’t want them playing video games for twelve hours at a time, there’s nothing wrong with letting them have a little more screen time than usual.
When you’re working from home with your kids unexpectedly, you may have to let it go. Explain to them that this is a special circumstance, and it won’t last forever. And when you’re done with work for the day, turn off the screens and switch to analog entertainment. You may not want to play board games with your family after working all day, but everyone needs some nondigital entertainment after staring at screens all day.
At the end of the day, there are lots of reasons you may find yourself working from home with your kids. If it’s not coronavirus that closes school and work, it could be a blizzard, excessive heat, or even a power outage.
Although it will likely be uncomfortable and difficult to at least some degree (and maybe a big one), keep in mind that working from home right now—even as hard as it can be with kids—can be the difference that keeps millions of people safe and our organizations in business. It’s worth the challenge. Remember to breathe and take it one day at a time and we will get through this unique time in our lives.