Remote work gives working parents a new set of colleagues, their kids – and managing them day and night wasn’t in the job description. But now, all of a sudden, many parents have to work from home. It’s not easy, but there are ways to keep the kids busy and get your work done at the same time.
So, what are the keys to managing your kids while working from home? Setting fixed routines as best you can, taking advantage of your home support system, and communicating clearly with your team at work are key tactics in surviving working at home with kids.
Maintain a daily routine with your work and your kids
The biggest change about working from home can be losing your daily workplace routine. That was the time when you could concentrate. You need to re-establish this routine, to some degree.
Wake up at the same time, or earlier
A big benefit for many in remote work is waking up later. No need to commute. But instead of the extra snooze, get up at the same time and use that time to get ahead on housework or non-housework.
If you get your 7 or 8 hours, take it a step further and get up an hour earlier. A study of university students found those who wake up earlier are better positioned for success.
You’ll join early-risers like Tim Cook, Michelle Obama, and Disney’s Bob Iger. Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People do Before Breakfast, notes that these successful people all benefit from setting specific goals for their extra morning time. You’ve potentially got extra extra time.
Write out clear targets for your additional child-free hour(s) in the morning. Use the time to work out, clean the kitchen, knock off nagging emails from your boss.
Keep your kids on a routine, too
If you’re in a situation where your kids are also unable to go to school or had their lives altered as well, keep them on track. They’re not likely to do it themselves.
Maintaining a consistent routine isn’t just great for us – it’s helpful for our kids too.
Research shows that kids get huge benefits from a regular family routine. In an article published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers found that children with family routines tended to be more emotionally stable and socially adjusted. Routines allow kids to relax and feel a little bit of control over their lives.
A good schedule for you might look something like this:
- 06:00: Wake up and get an hour of quiet work
- 07:30: Get the kids out of bed
- 08:00: Breakfast together as a family
- 09:30: School time
- 13:00: Playtime for the kids and work for the grownups
- 15:00: Chores
- 16:00: Family walk
- 17:30: Dinner and baths
- 20:00: Bedtime
Try to keep bedtime and dinnertime at roughly the same times. This family time is a great way to bookend the day and spend longer together. And it allows the kids to maintain some order as well.
Get shaved, washed, and dressed, all of you
There’s a psychological effect to “getting ready for work” and this can break down if you stop shaving, showering, and changing your clothes on workdays.
Many experts say putting on “real clothes” will help you to mentally divide work and relaxation time. As psychology professor Dr. Karen Pine explains in Forbes, wearing work clothes can help us feel more professional, alert, and focused.
You may normally work in a casual office, but at least get your jeans and a shirt on and get out of the sweats and pajamas.
For women, cashmere cardigans and loose-fitting pants are a great compromise between comfy and formal. For men, jeans or chinos, a respectable shirt, and keep shaving, or trimming your facial hair.
Zoom and other online meetings are a normal part of the workday or many at-home workers, so you should always be ready to go on camera and look like a professional. Even if no one’s requiring it, who’s going to make a better impression – Brian with the 3-day stubble and the university t-shirt or Steve with a decent polo shirt and his hair combed?
Ask for help when you need it
There will be some days when you need to get your work done. On those days, call on your support system.
Work it out with your partner
If you have a partner, make sure you’re sharing the responsibilities of home and childcare. It’s often implicit. Sit down and have an earnest talk about your needs rather than letting things fall into place and aggressions simmer.
Take turns with big jobs like cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling. This will give you both a chance to take a break.
Use an open-office mentality
In the pre-COVID-19 days, the topic of open offices was a big point of contention, with 70% of US offices now using such layouts. In countries like Japan, they’re the norm. Lots of people hate them. When you’re in a smaller home or an apartment, it’s like an open office squeezed into one tight space. You can employ some of the same coping tactics.
Find a way of non-verbally showing your family that you’re on a call. If you have a separate office, stick a sign on the door to show when you shouldn’t be disturbed. If you share a working space, put on your noise-canceling headphones. Even looking into putting up a portable dividing wall. Plants can also serve this function.
Explain to your kids and your partner what these mean and that you must only be bothered if there’s an emergency.
Employ remote kid-sitters
While it can be harder for single parents, video calls for your kids are a great way to occupy and stimulate them, while getting you some time to concentrate.
Ask a friend or family member to call in and read a story to your child. You could even organize a regular online playdate and take turns supervising the kids. Set them up with a game of Uno online, or download the Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome so your kids can watch their favorite shows with their friends for free.
Be honest with your team and yourself
Working at home with children can be a challenge, but don’t be afraid to share your struggles and concerns with your team.
Maintaining a strong team bond can be a challenge when you decide to go remote. Research in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that workers who felt isolated were more likely to lose motivation, and even quit.
Keep in touch
Allocate an hour each day to touching base with your colleagues. Checking in with their schedules will help to maintain team morale. It will also allow them to understand your situation at home and keep track of your progress.
Office productivity apps like Basecamp have dedicated check-in features that will take the effort out of scheduling times to connect with your team. Simply set the service to automatically contact different colleagues every week.
A study found that 43% of remote workers in the US find themselves putting in over 40 hours per week – often far more than their office-based counterparts.
Make a clear plan with your boss to decide how many hours you can telecommute per week. Discuss exactly what your responsibilities will be, and how many hours you expect those tasks to take.
Plan your time and stick to it
To prevent your work hours from getting out of control, highlight your priorities and work toward them.
Use a team planning service like Weekdone to input and track your goals during the week. Coordinating and tracking your progress openly will keep everyone in the loop, and help you to organize your time more effectively.
Your new work schedule does not have to be an exact mirror of what you were doing at the office. However, make sure your colleagues are aware of your activities to maintain a sense of unity.
Make time for self-care
A study found that 82% of US-based remote professionals feel overworked. And that was before COVID-19.
Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or anxious are all signs that you are starting to run out of drive. If you notice these symptoms, it is time to give yourself a break. Without early attention, burnout can lead to more serious problems like depression or anxiety.
To prevent burnout from taking hold, try to build self-care into your day in small but manageable ways.
Move it, move it
Alongside taking breaks to move around, try to turn off your phone during meals and family time.
Spending more face-to-face time with your kids and spouse will help to reduce feelings of isolation, and give you a break from the screen. Putting away your phone has also been shown to improve the quality of your relationships.
If taking a break seems impossible, use a preprogrammed “out of office” notice. These automatic responses are a useful way to reduce anxiety about leaving the virtual office.
You’re a role model for your children, and they need to see that it’s OK to take a break.
This may be the new normal, so use this time to iterate
With planning and flexibility, you and your pintsized colleagues can both thrive at home. They may still occasionally barge in on your Zoom calls, but come on, they’re kids! Keep in touch with other working parents online to swap ideas for activities and maintain your social connections. You’ll get through it, and we’ll be working this way, with our homes and families nearby, much more in the future, so seize the opportunity.