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How to Survive Working from Home with Kids in the House
March 30, 2020
Working from home is more popular than ever as companies everywhere realize its many benefits. And in times of emergency or unexpected crises, it can become a necessity or even a mandate. Becoming a telecommuter is an adjustment, but has many benefits for both individuals and companies.
Working from home with kids in the house, however, adds an additional set of challenges. These include juggling work responsibilities and parenting, figuring out childcare resources, childproofing your workspace, handling interruptions without losing your cool, and more.
The good news is that there are ways to work from home with kids, and do it well. We’re here to help with our top tips for surviving working from home with kids in the house.
1. Coordinate with your partner on childcare duties
Having the time to concentrate on work can feel like a luxury when kids and working from home intersect. Tasks, meetings, or deadlines can easily slip through the cracks or get overshadowed by demanding children’s needs if schedules for work and childcare are not aligned. Communication is key so it’s important to coordinate responsibilities with the other adults in your household.
If you and your partner both work from home, then you can tag team and pick up the slack for each other. When one is working, the other can be minding the children and vice versa. You can work in shifts of 2 to 3 hours each, but even short shifts of 30 minutes of uninterrupted time each can help each of you get the most important work tasks done.
Create a calendar
A calendar of deadlines and high-pressure meetings for each parent lets you know which shifts would be best for everyone. And if you’re a single parent, you can create a calendar and plan in advance. This way you may even be able to get the kids on board to help, at least to the extent they are able.
This is clearly age-dependent, of course, and if you’ve got younger children, in particular, you will probably need to evaluate childcare resources (see tip #2 below).
Plan times for meetings
If possible, plan your video calls, meetings, intensive tasks, or returning phone calls around naptimes if you have babies or toddlers. For older children, you can institute a “quiet time.” They may also be otherwise occupied with schoolwork or entertainment activities, which will give you the chance to focus on your own work.
For those times when you don’t need absolute silence? Make sure you’re available for interruptions at these non-crucial times without getting annoyed (see tip #5 below).
2. Evaluate your childcare resources
Having consistent time to concentrate on work means planning ahead. It takes a village to raise children, as the African proverb says. Sometimes – a lot of the time, actually – it’s difficult to work when kids are underfoot even with a completely willing and helpful partner contributing to childcare. Single parents working from home have it even tougher. There are times when you simply need outside help. That is completely normal.
If you don’t already have existing childcare resources, you may want to start your search from the inside out. First, look for internal resources, including older children, grandparents, or other family members or close friends who are willing and available to help.
If you don’t have one of these people living close to you who can lend a hand, you’ll need to expand to outside help. This might include pooling resources with trusted telecommuting neighbors, school-age babysitters after school for a few hours, or even a nanny if your budget allows.
In times of short-term crisis, like a sudden school closure, resources (both internal and external) may not be readily available. In that case, you may want to look into virtual resources – that is, using video meeting and conferencing software for (limited periods of) supervision.
For instance, you can set them up with a computer or tablet and have a relative or friend chat with or read to them via free apps like Zoom, Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Skype.
Use the electronic babysitter
When all else fails, it’s okay to park them in front of the TV so you can take a call or finish a report. Try to save this for the last resort to avoid too much screen time, especially for young children.
3. Optimize your workspace
Dedicated workspaces are a necessity for working from home. And if you have kids around, it’s essential to protect both them and your equipment to create a safe, worry-free place they can visit you during the day.
You may already have a convenient, comfortable, private, ergonomically perfect, productivity powerhouse of a dedicated home office. With its own door…that actually shuts. Lucky you. If not, you can make your current space more kid-friendly with some of our suggestions.
For more in-depth ideas, check out our HP Tech Takes article on home office setups for some great ideas.
How to childproof your office for babies and toddlers
- Place plug protectors over outlets
- Tape or zip-tie loose wires or electrical cords
- Attach any tall furniture to the wall
- Cover sharp edges on office furniture
- Place safety locks on drawers and cabinets
- Cover printers, keyboards, and other accessories when not in use
- Password protect your computer
- Use safety gates to create play areas
Unusual spaces for privacy
When your home office is too accessible to the kids, you can always improvise some creative alternatives. Don’t discount other spaces, both inside and outside of the house, when you need to hide from the kids for an important phone call. Just remember to mute yourself if the furnace comes on next to you during your Zoom call with the team.
- Back porch
4. Establish expectations with your family
Setting unrealistic expectations for what you and your children can accomplish during the workday can be a recipe for failure. And communicating your needs with the family is vital, too.
Strategize, communicate and adjust
While setting up your physical workspace is important, it’s equally important to establish the less tangible idea of expectations and talking them over with your family. Work from home strategies will change with your job responsibilities and with each child’s developmental stage.
And those expectations will differ depending on the number of kids you have and their temperament, too. Some kids need more supervision to keep from burning down the house, some extroverts need continual feedback or interaction, and still others can disappear into their room quite happily for hours on end.
When you make ground rules, take each member of the family into consideration. And be willing to adjust as all of you get settled into your new at-home work situation.
When figuring out how to work from home with a baby, naptime is your friend. Use this precious gift wisely and efficiently to get some sweet uninterrupted time for that important call or meeting, to focus, and to finish your most vital tasks – even if the amount of time is less than an hour.
These non-nappers are the toughest age and may force you to call in reinforcements.
When you really need to buckle down with a project give these rambunctious darlings some quiet time on their bed or the couch.
Provide some books or toys, or set them up to watch a favorite show, video, or movie. You can also assign older siblings a reading-time or play date with their younger brother and sister as schoolwork or house chores.
This age group requires less oversight than the younger ones. So they can read books, write stories, create art, do schoolwork, watch educational (or even entertaining) programs, and play computer games. Although limiting screen time is good, sometimes it’s necessary to toss out the hard and fast rules and let the screen be your temporary nanny.
Teens are ready for independence and responsibility, even if they’d rather be loafing. Give them household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Have them help with younger children, too, in a pinch. And you can even pay them for childcare.
5. Plan for (and even practice) interruptions
By its nature, working from home with kids is fraught with the potential for interruptions. As a political science professor learned all too well during an on-air interview for the BBC, it’s probably not a matter of if your kids will interrupt you but when…and how. Many people identified with BBC Dad; it was a human and humorous moment that showed the realities of what can occur when working with kids in the house.
Have a sense of humor
Expect that interruptions will happen, even if you try to avoid or minimize them. When they do unfold, a sense of humor and some prep work will help you get back to work quickly. Coworkers, many of whom are in the same situation, will understand.
Provide clear boundaries upfront
Let your children know the importance of not interrupting unless it’s an emergency. Define what exactly you can be interrupted for during work time (e.g., fire, cuts, falls, etc.). Define as well what you cannot be interrupted for (e.g., boredom, needing a snack, can’t find a toy, etc.)
Kids will have emergencies. So when an interruption does occur, you may need to stop what you’re doing and deal with the situation. You may even need to reschedule your call, meeting, or task for a better time.
If you’ve already given a heads up to those on the call that you’ve got kids around, then at least they won’t be surprised by it and most will understand. And remember that, like BBC Dad, it can happen to any of us.
6. Maintain work-life balance
Be easy on yourself and try to stay calm and positive. Your attitude is the most important work-from-home tool in your toolbox when it comes to kids. Give children attention when you can and schedule time during breaks in the workday, especially for younger kids.
Pay attention to the kids when you can
Remember that kids need to feel heard, so make sure that you pause, take a deep breath, and really engage with them for a few minutes of quality time even during your work hours. It will go a long way toward everyone keeping their sanity.
Reward good behavior
You can reward kids for good behavior by doing a family activity at the end of the day. Do things like eat dinner together, take a walk, or play a game with the kids after hours.
No matter how stressful things can seem, try to remember that you’re doing the best that you can by providing for your family – as are most people working from home with kids. Give yourself room and time to not always get it right. And to re-assess what “right” even means in certain instances.
If you’re keeping your kids alive, clothed, and fed, then you’re already meeting their immediate needs. If you’re letting them know that they’re loved, then you’re already practicing excellent parenting. Everything past that is just icing on the cake.
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About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.