How to work from home with kids
If you’re currently swapping the corporate headquarters for a room in your home, there are plenty of tools and guides to help make the work from home transition a painless one. Being a parent however makes this much trickier – even if you and your little ones are both excited to be spending so much time together. Thinking outside the box is crucial to keeping your work, your team and your kids happy. Here are some useful work-from-home tips and tricks for being a work-from-home mom, dad or sibling.
Explain the situation
While your kids will be excited to have you in the house, especially if they’re housebound themselves, they need to understand that life goes on as usual. Explain that it isn’t like a holiday – work hours are still in place, and their schoolwork and study hours are just as important. Not only will this help set expectations, it will also prevent any feelings of rejection when you lock them out of your home office for hours at a time.
Get a routine down
Whether they’re your own children, a younger sibling or your roommate’s kid, it’s easy to fall out of routine if you share your home with little people when working from home. Set yourself work schedules, much like you would on a regular workday in the office or when they’re at school. Don’t be tempted to sleep in until 9 a.m. and don’t take a 2-hour lunch break just because you can. You likely need to practice greater self-discipline than you typically do and clearly demonstrate how essential your work hours are. Then you can help the youngsters to follow your example.
Be prepared for kid-free work sessions
Maybe you’re perfectly happy to work from home with kids on your lap or playing at your feet. Perhaps your team is happy to see them pop up on a conference call too, but you also need to know where to draw the line. If you have a call with a client, or on a topic where giggling in the background definitely isn’t going to be productive, make sure to prepare. If someone else in the household can look after your little ones during important phone calls or virtual meetings, ask that they do. For older kids, make sure they know you’re not to be disturbed.
Kids are likely to enjoy the novelty of this unique situation – and so might you! So, take advantage of doing things a bit differently and give your kids tasks to accomplish throughout the day. Start the day with 'study time' then take a 'snack time' later on. You can even work in a set 'screen time' or 'social media time' if you don’t want your kids relying on tablets and computers for entertainment all day. Get siblings to compete for the best job done, or even give it a try yourself to give them a confidence boost. Remember to reward good behavior and completed tasks either with a tasty treat or some outdoor fun.
Create a workspace
For your kids, find a room where they won’t usually play and can have the space and equipment they need to focus on schoolwork or other mental tasks. For yourself, consider where you are most likely to be productive and undisturbed, even if you have to re-arrange a room to transform it into your workspace. Both should be sensibly furnished and free from the lure of TVs, but they should also be out of way of others’ routines, if at all possible. It will reduce the chances of someone passing through and causing a distraction. Changing an existing room to make it feel different will also help you tap into a healthy telecommuting mentality, so kids and adults alike will be able to get into work mode the moment they settle in.
It may also be helpful to create a digital boundary between work and home. This applies to email, calendars and accounts. You’ve designated work areas. Now designate family areas. A Dropbox Family Plan can give you a digital place to come together. Everyone has their own private account with a Family Room folder where they can access and share all the important stuff.
It may seem simplistic, or even silly, but it’s effective. Stick a sign on the door of your elected home office that says when you’re working and when you’re not, or even slap a sticky note on your laptop so youngsters know when they should leave you undisturbed. The best part about this is that you can make it part of a routine and have 'craft time' where the kids can help design signs. Try an elaborate crossing guard stop sign that little ones can turn from 'stop' to 'go' at 5 p.m. or bold 'Work time – stay out!' signs for their own rooms during study hours. It’s a fun activity where both you and your kids can establish and internalise work-time boundaries and moments for play in your routines. You can even get creative and add in a little FAQ.
Align your team
For work-at-home parents, your kiddies may be your new team, but make sure your actual work team doesn’t take a back seat. Support and communication is a vital aspect of any remote work, and that goes double when you’re working as part of a remote team. Stay in contact and keep collaborations going. If you notice that a team member is struggling with your situation, make sure you’re able to help them, maybe by helping with their workload or even organising virtual playdates with all your team’s little ones on Zoom.
Even the best work from home plan is no match for most kids’ boundless energy. Sooner or later, you’re simply going to need to keep little ones distracted so you can work. When you really just need an extra hour or two to finish your work, here are a few ways you can secure yourself some quiet time:
- Video calls with family or friends – consider it virtual babysitting
- Educational apps on the iPad
- Video games within reason – try using them as a reward
- Legos and other sensory toys
- Audiobooks with headphones to create an immersive experience
Accepting the challenges of working from home
Let’s be honest, the job of a parent is a heroic undertaking on the most normal of days, so don’t be alarmed if you’re struggling to manage a regular working day at the same time, especially now. If your kids are getting in the way of your work, be honest and open with your manager and your team so that you can all work with realistic expectations. You’ll likely find that some of them are having the same problems, creating opportunities to collaborate and solve them together.