You’ve recently found yourself in a new office. It’s cozy, could be quieter, needs a bit of tidying up, there’s a decent amount of windows, and a few indoor plants. Ok, this could work, you think to yourself.
You sip your coffee and wake up a bit…and you start seeing things you don’t remember seeing in your office before. There’s applesauce on the break room counter, and wait, “why is my mouse sticky?” You hear something down the hall..”.what is that, Sesame Street?” Hmm.“Ouch!” You just stubbed your toe on a rocking horse. “Expletive!” You do not remember that being there. Then, around the corner you hear a small noise, “I need a snack.” “Ok, hold up. Why on EARTH are my coworkers asking me for a snack?” Louder now. “Snack! …. Mama!” Ohhh ya. Your new corner office. It’s at home.
Perhaps the recent Coronavirus pandemic has forced you to adopt working remotely or you have decided it’s the best way for you to socially distance yourself. Maybe your company has recently seen the future of work and wants to jump on board sooner rather than later and with that comes new remote work habits/policies. You may have even just begun working for yourself in some capacity, and this recent global shift in remote work really doesn’t have much to do with you. Recent weeks have left many of us with new challenges, without daycare options, and without open schools.
In any case, you’ve had to make some drastic changes to your work life, and you also have a precocious and mostly charming child (or two) at your beck and call. Your first job is being a parent and you are trying to balance the fine line between work and life. It’s hard to do for most people, but it is even harder to do when work and life are happening in your home at the same time. You will question your sanity, the advancement of your career, the state of your home, and the health of your relationship with your spouse and kids. (Oh ya, did we mention your husband is now working from home too so…there’s that).
Some are already quite accomplished at working remotely with a family at home. Nonetheless, there is a right way to do it (for you and your family) and the wrong way, especially if you are new at this very different style of working. So, if you’re a parent who needs to work from home and take care of your kids at the same time, we’ve prepared a post to help you navigate. This may seem near impossible but we assure you it isn’t. The right mindset and these tips will make all the difference.
Normalcy and Routine
You’re going to crave normalcy big time. You’re used to a commute, used to 8-5, used to dropping your babes off at daycare, preschool, or school, and used to seeing people IRL. You are NOT used to sharing your lunch break with one or all of your kids on your lap. You’re not used to scheduling meetings around nap times nor are you used to coming up with new and exciting ways of keeping your kids busy every moment of every day, just to keep the status quo of your role at work.
Routine in remote work is crucial. A flexible routine is even more important when you are working remotely with children in the house. Try to have the whole family get up and get ready as if you are leaving the house…say, for a playdate. Because let’s be real, you’re going to have multiple playdates with your own kiddos today. For yourself, dress in something you can easily sit down on the floor and play in, take a walk in, slide down a slide in, don’t care if you get grape scented marker on…but also something business casual on top. Style your hair and/or makeup as you would on a normal day at the office. This will make you feel awake and ready but also keep you prepared for any unscheduled video conferencing calls.
Engage your entire family on somewhat of the same daily routine – time for breakfast, time for playing together, time for movement, chore time, screen time, solo time, quiet time, study/work time, and so on. This leaves room for variables but keeps everyone doing “remotely” the same thing.
This is also an excellent time to teach daily chores. You do them, your partner does them, and now your kids need to as well. Great examples of chores for kids are: washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, cleaning their room, and emptying the trash. These don’t take too much guidance and they’re super helpful. Not only will it keep your children busy but it will teach them responsibility, discipline, and hard work.
At dinner time, or at the end of the day, talk with the whole family about proud moments as well as failures. What did they do today? What did you do today? Treat it as a normal day, as if they weren’t home with you all day. They need normalcy too. It will help motivate them to share their experiences, ask for help, and, eventually, get more creative with their free time.
Coffee breaks still exist, and so do lunch breaks. Though you may find yourself sans an espresso machine with a side of mac and cheese.
Normally get an hour for lunch, 30 minutes? Whatever your normal time is, block that time out for your lunch break and always take it. Do you normally get two 15 minute breaks? Sweet, make yourself a cup of coffee, grab the blocks, build the tower, knock it down, then do it ten more times. Go check the mail, bask in the sun for a minute, grab a handful of healthy trail mix, and get your butt back to it.
You know how and when you work best in your normal routine. You have calendar blocks set, productivity time set, deep and shallow work times, and open time slots for last-minute meetings and clearing your inbox. How on earth do you manage this from your house?
For deep work time, use the time when children are not around, with your partner, preoccupied, or busy playing. If you used to work out before the sun, switch it up, and make that an uninterrupted deep work block. During this time, focus solely on the important tasks and avoid distractions as best you can. Then, when your family wakes up, take them all for a walk. You’ll get some exercise, the littles will get some movement, and you’ll enjoy your first break of the day because you won’t be stressed that you’re behind on work.
During times when your children need more attention, or days when they are sick or just not themselves, do shallow work – small tasks and minor work that don’t require much focus.
During times when your children need all the parenting they can get, be there for them. Yes, there is enough time in the day for both work and kids, but you have to make it. Your children are only little once. Small, play breaks with them will not break your career. But it WILL give you more time with your child than a lot of working professionals get to enjoy. You will see them more for who they are and you, in turn, will become a better parent. When you are much older and your kids have kids you won’t remember that one Zoom call you rescheduled because your daughter just needed you to hold her. This is a powerful time for connection. Offer yourself greater compassion. Then, offer it to your colleagues and your loved ones. We’ve fast-tracked 7 years into the remote workforce. The Coronavirus pandemic has us especially mixed up and everyone is adjusting on the fly. Be flexible. Spend your time wisely. Use your off time to be exactly that – off. Use your work hours for…you guessed it – work.
Important – this may be the most important paragraph in this post. If you do not spend quality time with your family members when you say you are going to (avoiding things like looking at your phone whenever you get a notification of a new email, or responding to a Slack message immediately, etc,) your children WILL act out. Your partner WILL act out. Your pets WILL act out. Please, if you can, do not do work at the dinner table. Do not work on your laptop while you sit for a few moments to watch Frozen, again, when your daughters have been asking you all day. Do not take a work call during bath time. Call them back after. Conversely, when you’ve set up your day this way, there’s no need to stop and change a wet diaper mid-email (unless it’s one of those). This can wait, your child can wait. And, if you spend dedicated no work time with them, they will, after a lot of repetition on your part, be patiently waiting and will be understanding of your yes work time.
Divide and Conquer
Raising a child is a huge responsibility and the best scenario requires the involvement of both parents. If you and your partner are both working from home, be crystal clear about your schedules, and create strong boundaries. You can schedule hours during which one of you works and the other takes care of the kids. One suggestion is to have a Morning Parent and an Evening Parent. The gist is that one of the parents is the main responsible party for the child(ren) during either the morning or the evening. During this time that parent handles everything while the other parent can involve themselves fully in whatever it is that they need: self-care, deep work, sleep, a shower, chores, errands, etc. It prevents both parents from running around spending useless hours not getting anything fully done, and not truly spending any quality time with the child(ren) or spouse. This helps the off-parent as well in that they have peace of mind knowing they can accomplish the task at hand while the kiddos are safe and well cared for. Keep in mind though, that mixups do and will happen such as taking a client call while on baby duty. This new territory can be a powerful opportunity and a big open door to show one another compassion. Recognizing the full humanity of our colleagues may never be more appreciated.
It’s not at all uncommon to have one parent outside of the home but this does result in a much larger and more complex challenge within the scope of remote work. You can still try to tackle this problem by sharing responsibilities and helping each other, either with the other parent or another trusted individual. Another really great option that works for some, is switching weekends for free days in the workweek. Maybe you take off Mondays and Wednesdays but opt to work Saturdays and Sundays (the days your partner has off). When your partner has responsibility for the kids, you work like there’s no tomorrow. Be sure that this is an option for you, your partner, and both respective jobs before committing. Experiment to see what’s best for your family.
You will definitely need a home office – an easily identifiable, physical space in your home that is nothing else but a dedicated space to work – a literal division between work and home. It doesn’t have to be an entirely separate room, but it’s important that it is quiet and bright and an easy space to find focus. And, since there will be video calls involved, this needs to be a place where you know the lighting, wifi, and battery charge will be strong (and that you don’t accidentally have something personal going on in the background). Don’t be too strict about it, though. When you need to shift perspective or take a break. Feel free to move to other spots throughout the house, or outside for a reset.
Try (key word, try) to instill in your children the idea that you have your own space and they have theirs. Remind them that they are not allowed to stash their unfinished fruit snacks on your desk. Attempt to foster an environment in your home where everyone respects each other’s space. More often than not, the littles will respect your space too. It might be fun for you and your kids to transform part of your office space into a kid’s office. A place where your children will learn, do art, read books, or do homework – a place for focus and attention. An easy place to glance over at them as well as spend some time near each other.
Distractions and Disruptions
This is a big one. There will be constant distractions. As you become more seasoned at working from home, you’ll learn how to minimize these distractions. Or, at the very least, manage them. For now, don’t worry too much about things like the laundry or emptying the dishwasher. If you were in your normal office, you sure as heck wouldn’t be thinking about it. We suggest scheduling a time block into your day for cleaning and household chores and a separate one for running errands.
On the other hand, and on a normal day…people would be stopping by your desk, popping their elbows onto your cubicle wall, or you might run out for coffee or lunch. So, if you need 15 minutes to take care of a chore, it really isn’t a big deal. Think of it this way…if it doesn’t affect the overall outcome of the job at hand then it’s ok. The time is the same.
Then there are…disruptions, and these are mostly unavoidable. You don’t plan a block of time on your calendar every Tuesday and Thursday AM titled “Disruption.” These are unexpected disturbances in your workflow. Things like your pup tracking in mud leading your toddler to find his inner Picasso. You’ll need to learn to adapt to scenarios like these or something as minimal as grocery delivery could throw off your whole afternoon.
Every day is different, enjoy that. Make light of the inevitable mess that will surround you.
Learn to Rest (and Reset) Not Quit
It’s evening and your kids are in bed, and you finally have some silence and some stillness. It sounds like a perfect time to finish up some work but you are as exhausted as can be. Will you opt to power through or go to bed?
Don’t overwork yourself and don’t take on too much work in one day. You will burn out sooner than you ever could have imagined. It’s okay to go to bed earlier and wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and relaxed. It’s okay to nap with your child if you need the break, and it’s even more okay to nap by yourself (if you can swing it), especially if you know it will make your afternoon headache-free and more productive.
Don’t forget the go-to baths in the evening and re-energizing breaks outside during the day. Also, if you need to just silence the noise of all of your devices for a bit, do so. Turn them off. They’ll be there waiting for you when you’re ready to return.
Becoming a Human Lump
Yes, this is a real fear and a real thing.
Working from home can be conducive to every aspect of your life — except your waistline. Build small bursts of activity into your day like taking a walk at lunch. Odds are your kiddo has a trampoline or other jumping device – go play. Your kids need the exercise so they don’t make you cuckoo. Your dogs need the exercise, YOU need the exercise.
Did you previously go to the gym after work but before you got home? Continue to use this time for working out. It won’t be at the gym since they are currently closed and on some days it might include an extra human between you and your yoga mat. Got a 26-pound toddler at your ankles? Instant bonus weight to your squats. Score. And, she’ll be giggling too. Jackpot.
There are other traps aside from weight management when it comes to working from home. What about binge-watching the new season of Yellowstone, after the kiddos are in bed, and then realizing you haven’t even gotten up to pee, the whole time. Your computer has been dead for an hour, you’ve been ignoring Slack for two, and you’ve been munching on your kid’s Cheetos for…the entire bag. Then you realize you’re going to miss out on several hours of good sleep tonight, which is 100% going to impact your morning meeting (which is three hours ahead). Was all that worth how tired you’re going to feel tomorrow? No. This is not productive for you or accountable for your work by any means. You are not allowed to forget your goals Reminder – business on top, party in the back.
Think about how powerful you’ll feel when this mandatory work from home phase is over. Maybe you go back to the office, maybe you don’t. In any case, you will have not strayed from your goals, you may or may not be more in shape than you were, and now you are mentally stronger as well. You’ve been disciplined enough to lead your day, spend time with your kids, get your work done, and keep the house afloat.
You likely won’t be physically interacting with anyone who doesn’t live with you. Aside from work, you might be interacting with only small people. It takes some serious getting used to. There will be times when this will make you question more things than you’d like to admit. This is temporary. Baby talk is temporary. Becoming a human horse, in between meetings, for your toddler to ride and yell “giddyup” down the hall and back 100 times is, we promise, temporary.
Being isolated can be scary. Being forced to isolate during a pandemic can be even more nerve-shattering. The most important thing is to address your fears with a plan and consider who you can share these with. Chances are, you and your partner will have a whole new set of conversation topics these days.
Your children might be feeling quite isolated as well – all you need is the right strategic plan and a little bit of creativity. Older children and teenagers are easier to factor into working from home. They can occupy themselves and are less likely to be entirely at a loss of what to do. Younger children, toddlers, and babies are a whole lot more work. They need a world of attention. Use the power of books and games to your advantage. Take the time to prep activities beforehand. Quality screen time is great, though try to limit it to 1ish hours per day. Attempt to plan screen time when you really need them out of your hair, a client meeting, or other work involving extra special care.
Engaging the kids in your work – let them accompany you during work hours. Show them how you work and what you do. Explain why and how you’re working from home. If possible, you can even try to involve them in small tasks. It will make them feel special, appreciated, and will teach them accountability.
Another thought is to consider how you’ve managed time when your schedule was similarly hazy. Perhaps during college, you enjoyed study dates. Or meeting friends for a glass of wine after work on Fridays. Is there a friend who’s also working remotely with whom you can have a virtual coworking date or virtual Friday happy hour?
Call someone at the end of each workday to signify your brain that your workday is over. This can be a great time to reconnect with friends who don’t live nearby. Remember how to write a letter? Crack those knuckles and get started. Did we mention Netflix also has movie parties now?
You’ll also get really good at scheduling, and really good at connecting. Or die trying.
Helpful Technology, Tools, and Good Ideas
- If you know you need accountability to be productive, strive to build in some support tactics to ensure you don’t get distracted.
- Since remote work requires constant communication and video calls, making a checklist of what you want to discuss or using a shared agenda with a list of topics will help you concentrate even with your littles running about. Remember that it’s okay to have your kid with you in the room during e-meetings. After all, we are all just humans and need a little empathy.
- Use proper equipment – both your desk and chair should have the appropriate width and height. It can help you avoid back, leg, and hand pain.
- A good mouse and keyboard for comfortable hands – it will prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist problems
- Noise-reducing headphones will help you to focus while your kids are being loud. We don’t recommend noise-canceling, though. Gotta keep those ears ready for child-related sounds, emergency or otherwise.
- Blue light filtering glasses, we like Lady Boss.
- YouTube Kids, complete with filters, a timer, and age-appropriate content.
- Put your dogs or pets away during a call. Barking in the background is not cool.
Being a parent doesn’t mean you have to give up your job. Working from home with your children around is possible and not the most difficult thing in the world. It’s challenging and rewarding.
The most important thing that we hope resonates with you is time. Plan your time, use your time wisely, remember that time is temporary. You only get so much time in a day. Create a clean break between work and home. Ya we know, it’s all under the same roof – but it is possible, and when you finally get it..it’s quite beautiful.
We sincerely hope this helps each and every one of the recently officeless, working from home with their children in tow.