COVID has caused office job culture to shift completely. With people not allowed into business offices, people are having to find suitable coworking space if they aren’t able to work from home, adapt to working from their home office, and learn how to operate away from their offices. It’s been a big learning process and a lot of us have found ourselves working from home for the first time. You’ve got your equipment set up, you’ve looked at a what should you wear when at home guide, and your bosses have given you your tasks for the week… but what about the kids? One of the biggest challenges during the pandemic is parenting young children (who are now home much more) while juggling work. As a business owner, operating from an office in my home for over five years, I have learned that this does not mean our homes have to be full of chaos or lack productivity. Allow me to share my top 8 tips for working from home with kids:
1. Don’t underestimate the power of connection
From both research and experience, I have learned that it is vital to begin the day with some meaningful connection. Devoting 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time with toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children can set your entire day up for success. When children have their developmental needs for connection met before they are asked to play independently, their compliance grows exponentially. Plus, they’ll be able to count on, and look forward to, this daily time together.
2. Prepare snacks in advance
As you metaphorically fill your children’s cups with emotional connection each day, literally fill their cups too. Fill up water bottles and provide a snack box ahead of time for children to access without interrupting adult work time. Explain the expectations for snacks (when, how many, what about when they’re gone, etc.) ahead of time.
3. Create a routine that fosters independence
When it comes to working from home with kids, the more you can get done in advance the smoother your day will be. Discuss morning routines in detail. Lay clothes out the night before to allow children independence in the mornings. Depending on the ages of your children, have sensory bags, quiet activities, crafts, games, Legos, Playdoh, podcasts, etc. ready to go. Reserve screen time for specific parts of the day. Structuring some intentional parts of the day will make it more manageable for the entire family.
4. Establish realistic expectations
Don’t plan to work for long periods of time with no breaks, particularly if your children are young. Acknowledging that even children who play well independently still need frequent supervision and socialization, allows us to keep realistic expectations for the amount of time we are able to work at one time. It’s safe to assume that you will have to catch up on some work in the evening after your children are in bed. Communicate expectations in a clear, child-friendly manner, and model that by following through. Additionally, managers, who may be in a similar situation, should grant some leeway. Set reasonable expectations on your response time to work-related tasks and don’t over-commit.
5. Start small
If you are the only adult home, start with short calls that your children can see beginning and ending more quickly. Discuss problem-solving strategies beforehand if an issue should arise while you’re on a call. Also, older children may be able to troubleshoot until a grownup is available again. Taking time to foster independent play will not only benefit overnight sleep, but will allow you time for work. When a call or other obligation is over, be attentive and give lots of praise for their cooperation. Gratitude and positive reinforcement goes a long way.
6. Designate a work space
Working at home with kids can blur the lines between parent and professional. Children will have an easier time understanding that a parent is working if there is a space set aside for that work to take place. To close off the space, you could consider using some felt acoustic panels to create a divide and to limit distractions. These panels are sound-absorbing, so you won’t have to worry about being too loud or having distractions. Also, many children can be taught simple expectations, such as a stop sign posted on a door or instruction to not interrupt when a door is closed. If signs don’t seem to be working, having a completely separate space for work such as a home office shed is another option. This way, children will know to stay completely away from that certain workspace. This is also great for the summer months as children can play outside while you watch from your work shed. For school-aged children, preparing an “office space” to complete virtual schooling, and for younger children, who may like to play “imaginary work”, setting up individual areas for each, can help reinforce workspace and play space.
7. Take shifts
If both adults are currently working from home with kids out of school and activities, take advantage of the ability to trade off. Take care of the most important work during uninterrupted hours. Less stressful, routine work, can be done when your children are around. A partnership between spouses can ensure that both adults are able to work and that the kids are being stimulated adequately. Designate specific parts of the day to family and other chunks of the day to focused work time – even if the hours are not as traditional as they are in the office setting. In the absence of additional childcare, this can be much more difficult for parents of babies and toddlers, but even if half the day goes according to plan, it is often better than you would be doing otherwise!
8. Forgive the friction
Surrounding yourself by the same people 24 hours a day and 7 days a week is not always easy. Thankfully, since your partner and children are likely people you enjoy, it won’t always be difficult either. Your children may need space apart from one another each day and squabbles will be an opportunity to teach them how to problem-solve respectfully and productively. The financial stress of this situation, feelings of cabin fever, fear of the virus itself, and exhaustion of parenting while working is bound to cause some challenges in your relationship too. Focus on appreciation for what is getting done and listen to each other well. If you make a heart of grace and forgiveness your goal during the quarantine, your time at home will be much smoother.
When we look back on this time there are a lot of things we will remember, but for our children, one of the main things they will remember is the time they spent with us. While work is necessary, working from home is certainly a blessing for those of us who are able to (in lieu of not being able to continue working at all in this season). Amongst all of the tough stuff you will inevitably face in this “new work environment,” do your best to find a few bright spots in your week – moments that you hope will turn into simple memories your children cherish for a lifetime! We are here for you!